Wed | Feb 1, 2023

Bauxite leaves farmers in the red – report

Published:Monday | February 15, 2021 | 12:18 AM
Farmers have complained that mined-out lands have not been properly reclaimed and blame the Jamaica Bauxite Institute for failing in its oversight of the industry.
Farmers have complained that mined-out lands have not been properly reclaimed and blame the Jamaica Bauxite Institute for failing in its oversight of the industry.

A recent Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) report has cast a dark shadow over the bauxite industry in the island, with damning claims that it is hurting social life and environment with very little economic benefit.

In slamming the continued practice of bauxite mining, JET said the bauxite-alumina industry had been operated for 45–65 years under minimal or deficient environmental legislation, and it was not until 2015 that an adequate legal framework was established.

A Gleaner special report, published today, on farming communities across Manchester that have been scarred by bauxite mining offers insight into tales of personal pain and tragedy that dovetail into JET’s narrative. Bauxite interests chose generally to decline comment.

WATCH: Manchester farmers lament impact of bauxite mining

JET, in its report, said that regulations were found to be overlapping, sometimes conflicting, and in need of review.

One of the key areas of JET’s report titled Red Dirt: A Multidisciplinary Review of the Bauxite Alumina Industry of Jamaica highlighted the brutal impact the bauxite-alumina industry has had on farmers.

“Small farming communities insist they suffered because of bauxite mining, losing size and sense of community. We were not able to find data on displacement, resettlement, or population decline of the mining communities.

“Communities affected by dust found the dust nuisance compensation offered by bauxite companies to be inadequate – between J$7,000 and J$8,000 per household per incident. At 2020 rates of exchange, this is between US$50 and US$55,” the report noted.

According to JET’s analysis, many resettled people found the experience disruptive and painful. And while a few were able to continue farming, most found themselves in semi-urban situations or in lower-level bauxite jobs, resulting in reduced small-farming production.

JET, in its report, contended, too, that the current benchmark of 15cm (six inches) of reconstructed soil was too shallow to support the growth of large trees.

“... The industry has known since at least 2010 that soil function and soil fertility remain compromised for at least 20 years after an ore body has been rehabilitated,” the report noted.

The lobby is also pushing back strongly against the continued practice of using Napier grass to stablise the movement of reclaimed soil.

An estimated figure of between 60 and 70 per cent of pits that have been rehabilitated under the currently active Special Mining Leases employ the practice.

“Napier grass is recognised globally as an invasive alien species because once established, it prevents colonisation by other species and is difficult to eradicate.

“Its usage, therefore, contravenes Jamaica’s responsibilities to the Convention on Biological Diversity, to which the country acceded in 1995,” the report stated.

The study blasted state agencies for not doing enough to protect the public interest.

“Owing to this failing from the very institutions established to protect the public interest, the rural communities interviewed were adamant that the industry has inflicted clear and long-lasting damage on small farmers, their culture, and potential for enriching the agriculture of Jamaica and the country’s prospects for self-reliance,” the report stated.

JET’s report also took issue with air-quality issues that have arisen as a result of decades of bauxite mining.

“Jamaica’s air-quality standards are known to be outdated and, with respect to particulate matter (PM), are inadequate to protect public health – the bauxite-alumina industry could and should be held to a higher standard,” the report pointed out.

Specifically, it has highlighted that the licence requirements for air-quality monitoring in the Noranda mining areas were not fully adhered to.

Also, under the microscope is how the activities relating to bauxite mining have polluted rivers and underground water sources.

It was revealed that of the 150 wells owned by bauxite companies, only 19 have been monitored for water quality for at least one year.

Similarly, of the more than 70 wells owned by the Government that are within 15 kilometres of the ‘down aquifer’ flow of the alumina factories, only six had water-quality reports available for viewing.

That finding contradicted the Water Resources Authority’s claim that its web-based hydrological database provides “timely access to stakeholders to data on the quantity, quality, and variations in time and space of the surface and underground water for communities in proximity to alumina-processing factories”.

romario.scott@gleanerjm.com