An old adage advised that we “do what we can, where we are, with what we have”. This sentiment essentially captures the plight of seasoned farmers and those forced into farming by unemployment. These individuals are currently seeking their daily bread by whatever means necessary. A visit to the Grande Anse Estate on the north-east coast of the island will prove just that. Acres of what was once a forested area have been ceremoniously cut in an effort to plant crops and produce charcoal. Many who drive through Des Barras to Cailles Des and the Louvette Estate are captured by the newly created man-made views of the east coast. Others simply stand in awe – unable to comprehend how mere men would eradicate such large areas of forest in such little time. The answer to that is simple – these are the acts of desperate men and women who desire to adequately care for their families. They have a story to tell.
Decades ago, the people of Des Barras, Cailles Des and surrounding areas toiled incessantly on the Grande Anse Estate to care for their families. It was, as Dickens puts it, “the best of times and the worst of times”. They toiled the land and were paid but the vitality of the estate would not last. The changing of the guards would prove to be detrimental. Scores of people were now unemployed and eventually turned to self-employment as a means of survival. But this was not to last.
The new guardian of the estate had little care for family or people and what is now known as the “rampage of the cows” would strike. The guardian, with scores of cows, rampaged the gardens on the estate and the nearby communities – showing no remorse or concern for the families who would inevitably plunge into a new cycle of poverty. Everyone was affected. Produce was lost. As some residents put it, they could not afford “to buy jarry” to accent the feet of their young ones. Wednesdays also proved to be one of the days for high absenteeism in school as children were pulled out of school to work on banana plantations. Child labour was rampant but an acceptable means of survival.
Mortality would eventually slay the guardian and this would spark an unprecedented silent aura of “acceptable crimes”. Cows on the estate mysteriously vanished as people reportedly stole them as compensation for their gardens and “pain and suffering” brought on by poverty. Some animals were allegedly poisoned as an act of vengeance and many individuals would eventually return to the estate to re-commence their farms on the land to which they believed they had a right. But did they? While the owners of the estate may appear to be invisible with a seemingly dormant approach to “guarding their treasure”, they remain the guardians and they are alive and well.
Today this “dormant approach” has led to indiscriminate dumping of garbage on the Grande Anse Estate (a place frequented by tourists) and the destruction of habitats to facilitate charcoal making and the cultivation of root crops. Should this new chapter in the Grande Anse saga go unnoticed? What are the implications for the endangered and endemic species as well as migratory birds that depend on this habitat? Is it possible to adequately balance the needs of the locals and the need to preserve the environment?
One thing is clear – this estate, which is undoubtedly a historical and environmental relic, cannot be allowed to go down in flames.
While the needs of the unemployed are great, should we really ignore them in the name of conservation? Tough questions . . . but we must find a way to save the environment and the people.