In a May 30 Environment Watch article, "Calling teak farmers...", you detail support for expanding a "teak foresting" industry in Jamaica. Word from the Jamaica Protected Areas Trust/Forest Conservation Fund (FCF) is that "Jamaicans should consider planting forests, including teak forests..."
We do not question the utility of planting forests, including teak forests, for soil stabilisation, carbon sequestration, or even financial gain, among other possible benefits. What we do question is where the support is coming from - organisations which have an explicit mandate to conserve the island's
natural forests and protect the biodiversity contained therein.
What Jamaica desperately needs is to save its few remaining natural forests and rehabilitate those that have been degraded. These natural forests harbour the island's native and endemic biodiversity; teak is an Asian species, and a tree farm is just that - a farm, not a forest.
We hope that the FCF, which was established to protect and conserve the island's natural forests, will not get hijacked to support the planting of Asian teak. After all, Jamaica has lost enough of its natural forests to agricultural expansion focused on non-native species. It would be an injustice, indeed, for the FCF to support the planting of additional non-native species. The Forestry Department already tried that in the past. Vast tracts of primary broadleaf forest were felled in what is now the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, to be replanted with non-native Caribbean pine. We all know what a boondoggle that project was.
To end emphatically, FCF support (that is, funds) should not be used to grow teak forests; those Debt-for-Nature funds should go toward conserving the island's natural forests and species. Perhaps there are some native species that might also be appropriate for forest-growing operations. And perhaps the teak growers can get support from the business sector, rather than pilfer what should be a conservation budget.
Dr Byron Wilson