We had better wake up and smell the coffee!

Thursday, October 03, 2019

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As Jamaicans we have this puzzling propensity to seek to self-destruct by shooting ourselves in the foot.

The latest example is the burning and cutting down of trees by coffee farmers in the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, putting at risk the hard-won UNESCO World Heritage Site designation that came in 2015.

The Jamaica Conservation Development Trust (JCDT), which manages the national park, showed this newspaper proof of the catastrophic clearing of land at various sections of the park, in places like Cinchona, Exhibition Hill, Monkey Hill, Abbey Green, and Mossmon's Peak.

Our poverty is not just for lack of resources and an economy which stubbornly refuses to grow at the level which we all desire and which some of us work so hard to achieve. It is also because of those among us who seem to know only how to destroy what others build.

We have seen people demonstrating for better roads turn around and destroy what little road surface is left in that community by burning tyres, trees and debris on it.

Look at the shameful burning of bamboo in Holland Bamboo, a wonderful tourist attraction in St Elizabeth.

Need we mention the wanton burning of trees all over the island for coal, with no concern for the damage being done to the environment?

Even more frightening are the people who steal elements from amenities to be sold as scrap metal, threatening a wide range of critical services, without a care in the world for what happens to the rest of us.

Those are a few examples but they demonstrate that there are enough people who are willing to put the rest of the country in jeopardy, as long as they can “eat a food”. The worst part of it is that there is apparently no one to stop this parasitic behaviour.

In the case of the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, three sets of people claim jurisdiction/rights — the JCDT, the state-run Forestry Department, and the farmers who benefit from the world-renowned Blue Mountain Coffee brand.

The national park is spread over 41,198 hectares (101,313 acres) and features over 15 kilometres of hiking trails, hundreds of flowering plants, countless species of birds, numerous waterfalls, and is one of two places on the island which is home to the largest butterfly in the western hemisphere — the Homerus Swallowtail.

The Jamaica Agricultural Society acknowledges that coffee farmers are, in fact, cutting into the national park, some of them arguing that they have legal rights to the properties through ownership or long-term leases.

Interestingly, the farmers involved are not just some small persons desperately fighting poverty. The JCDT Deputy Chairman Adam Hyde tells us: “…The big coffee farmers will tell you, 'Oh, we don't have any control over the small farmers,' [but] these are the people who, by proxy, plant coffee for them, and sell to them. These are the farmers who are cutting down the forest…They light fires and they burn into the cloud forest, into the natural forest. So each year we're losing more and more of the national park.”

More recently, the Blue Mountain Coffee Festival was created to put the spotlight on Jamaica's coffee. So while some are working to build, others are merrily destroying.

Do we still have a Ministry of Agriculture?


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