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Jamaica, land of wood and water, imports $3b worth of lumber annually

BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, October 24, 2012    

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JAMAICA is said to import some $3 billion worth of lumber each year, despite the island being known as the 'land of wood and water'.

This has forced at least one local producer of lumber to appeal to more Jamaicans to invest in the planting of lumber trees.

Dalkeith Hanna —operator of Croydon in the Mountains — a 132-acre farm in Catadupa, St James, which consists of several acres of Caribbean pitch pine trees — said the long wait for the trees to mature should not be a deterrent.

Hanna, who purchased the farm in the 1980s, said he farms other income-earning produce on the land while waiting the 20 years it takes for the lumber trees to mature.

"The reason why we can't grow more lumber here is because nobody wants to wait for 20 years for them to mature," Hanna told the Jamaica Observer.

This 20-year wait time, he said, is nothing compared to the more than 60 years it takes for certain types of lumber trees to mature in some of the countries from which Jamaica imports lumber.

Hanna said when he first started planting the trees, the cost was 90 cents per square foot for lumber, but in less than two decades the cost is now more than $90.

He noted, however, that he still has been able to sell his locally grown lumber at a cheaper cost than the imported wood.

"Jamaica imports 60 million square feet of lumber from 21 countries each year, and this shouldn't have to be the case," Hanna said.

He explained further that he has a local market for all the lumber he is able to produce.

"I grow how much I want to because there is always a market for it," Hanna said.

A 2007 Jamaica Promotions Company (JAMPRO) report said that other than the energy wood, very little of the total estimated annual demand for lumber is presently being met locally.

According to the JAMPRO document, the National Forest Management and Conservation Plan (NFMCP) states that a number of incentives are provided to encourage investment in forestry development and conservation.

These incentives include the distribution of free timber seedlings from nursery sites as well as subsidised cost on other species.

Other incentives include the remission of property tax on lands declared as forest management areas or forest reserves; income tax exemption, duty concession on motor vehicle purchase, and waiver of General Consumption Tax on capital goods, activities and supplies prescribed under a forest management agreement.

There is also an approved forest management plan and long-term conditional leasing at competitive rates of public land for reforestation, agroforestry and other purposes prescribed in an approved Local Forest Management Plan, including investiture of full ownership of planted trees on the lessee.

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