This is an itch a nation can’t seem to scratch.
The dreaded cow-itch menace has resurfaced again. Vines growing on empty lots have been wreaking havoc on schools and nearby homes across the island, leading to the loss of sleep, classtime, productivity and, surely, peaceful enjoyment of one’s property.
Anyone who has been affected by cow-itch can relate the tale of an intense burning sensation; within hours the skin becomes red hot, inflamed, swollen and excruciatingly itchy.
No one, far less children should have to encounter this plant’s pestilential pollen.
In a desperate plea last week, the President of the Barbados Union of Teachers Rudy Lovell pleaded with landowners to clean up and maintain their offending lots as schools shut their doors and resort to online instruction.
“This is a serious matter,” he declared. “The Barbados Union of Teachers is imploring, begging, beseeching, whatever word you want to use, landowners who have lands adjacent to schools that are harbouring cow-itch to clear the lands. This is becoming a nuisance and several schools have been affected. This term alone, Daryl Jordan Secondary, Grantley Adams Secondary, Gordon Greenidge Primary have been affected.
Since then the complaints have grown. Mount Tabor Primary in St John and All Saints Primary in St Peter are the latest to close. The Blackman and Gollop Primary and Thelma Berry Nursery School in Christ Church have been forced to hold classes online and we wonder who will be next.
“I know in some cases, schools have been reaching out to the landowners,” Lovell added. “But the thing is that this is an annual problem. We know that around this time of the year cow-itch grows. Why wait until it impacts or affects the occupants of the schools to then come and clear the fields? Why not be proactive as a landowner and seek to remove the cow-itch from the properties? I received calls on a daily basis with regards to cow-itch, it is a total nuisance.”
In response, the Ministry of Education said on Monday that it has been working with several entities to have the affected areas cleared and foliage removed.
We note the Ministry’s efforts but we believe this issue should not be left to education authorities.
Indeed, the Minister of the Environment and National beautification Adrian Forde agrees it is a worrying and unfortunate problem. We were told that Government was currently working on legislation that would address landowners being forced to either clear their lots or be subjected to penalties if they refuse to do so.
Said Forde: “The school of thought is that landowners who are not complying to have those persons be given a period of time to do the remedial work.”
If this fails, he said, the Government would do the cleaning and bill the charges to the landowner whether it is through the land tax bill or by some other means.
“The legislation hasn’t been drafted yet but there are definitely plans to deal with this issue. Really and truly this is not how we should be operating as Barbadians, this is not who we are as a people,” the environment minister said.
We couldn’t agree more, but herein lies the growing frustration for scores of Barbadians as so ably vented by the BUT president.
Repeatedly, the Ministry of the Environment has been appealing to land owners to keep their properties clean and free of overgrown bush. Whether it be to protect the environment from cow-itch, mosquito breeding or harbouring rats and other vermin.
But each year the complaints mounts. It appears that many landowners are tone deaf or simply careless about the impact of their habits.
Leaving land unkempt is a hazard and menace to public health and safety.
Government, therefore, has to step up and deal with this issue in the strongest possible manner. Punish those who upend the lives of others. The law must sting like cow-itch.
We know that cow-itch is seasonal. Therefore landowners must not only be made to clean up their act, but authorities must put a strong plan in place to eradicate this menace. Cow-itch is best treated green not when it is ripe.
But cow-itch is a symptom of a wider malaise in our countryside where so much fertile plantation land continues to lie fallow, as the foreclosed CLICO estates deny a cash-strapped nation the opportunity to earn bread from the land.
But, one humanitarian crisis at a time. Eradicate cow-itch, with a plan to prevent its return through sustainable land management.