Regional

Douglas Castle residents combating global warming

BY RENAE DIXON Observer staff reporter dixonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, June 23, 2014    

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RESIDENTS of Douglas Castle in McNie, St Ann, although far removed from many major towns, have joined several groups working to combat the effects of global warming as decreased rainfall in the farming community causes major soil erosion when it does rain.

Community members have happily joined an initiative funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for the reforestation of the Stephney-John's Vale Forest Reserve.

The two-year programme has seen several agencies partnering with the community, through the Social Development Commission, to get the project done. Among those involved are the Forest Reserve and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA).

The community is currently participating in the project titled 'Jamaica Rural Economy and Eco Systems Adapting to Climate Change (Ja REEACH), which seeks to reforest 200 hectares of the Stephney-John's Vale Forest Reserve.

Farmers of Douglas Castle have been introduced to agro-forestry programmes in which farming and forestry have been linked as they try to preserve their farmlands.

Some 200 farmers are being trained in the programme.

The Stephney-John's Vale Forest Reserve is one of the largest forest reserves in Jamaica covering 6,675 hectares in St Ann and Clarendon. Jamaica's Forestry Department has identified the area as one critical for management and conservation and has been guiding the farmers through the JaREEACH programme.

With different agencies coming together to work with the community on the project, the farmers commended the joint effort.

"There is no conflict about what others will be doing as everyone partners together," said Maureen Byfield, Social Development Commission officer for the area.

Reverend Paul Black, minister of religion and farmer, had high praises for the programme: "This has been a long-awaited project that we are seeing coming to life; it's benefiting the community already because it's turning up some form of hope given that global warming has impacted here. The farmers have been suffering as the rainfall has decreased tremendously," he said, adding that the planting of trees is a sign of hope that the community will soon be able to benefit from rainfall, which is the main source of water for the area.

The community, he said, has lost the luxury of potable water and so residents have to harvest their own rainwater.

"We are happy to have this kind of project going, and I am sure in the next five years we are going to see tremendous change in the environment and even the way they farm," Black said.

He pointed out that 99 per cent of the community depend on farming for their livelihood and so the initiative would prove to be of great assistance.

Stephen Douglas, another farmer in the community, also welcomed the initiative.

"Mi feel good because this was what I hope for from a long time. We want some fruit tree to plant to bring back the soil," he said.

While the reforestation programme is addressing the issue of deforestation and soil erosion, Byfield pointed out that it also addresses unemployment.

"It will improve the quality of farming," said Verol Douglas, community member. He pointed out that, with deforestation, there was soil erosion resulting in smaller yields for the farmers. Douglas said addressing the situation was not only beneficial to the people of Douglas Castle, but preserving the main watershed area was preserving attractions like Dunn's River Falls and other such facilities along the north coast.

However, while residents are working to make things better for their farms, the community continues to face major challenges because of where it is located.

Located near a forest reserve, Douglas Castle is partially cut off from the rest of St Ann, forcing some people to have to travel from the Clarendon end to enter the community.

Apart from one section of the community having no electricity, there is also no potable water, poor road conditions and access to all major facilities are miles away.

The nearest fire station to the community in any direction is approximately 40 kilometres away. The lengthy journey to the fire station is the same to hospitals, schools, and other major institutions which are significant for the development of the community.

According to Douglas, another disadvantage the community faces is the high cost of travelling. This, he said, could be addressed if a major roadway linking the community to Alexandria is fixed, as it is shorter and would reduce the long journey residents have to take to visit relatives in other parts of the parish.

"If roads were better it would cost about $100, now it cost over $1,000," he lamented.

Children too are affected as they have to travel miles to school. Many of the students attend schools in Clarendon as it is even more difficult to access Brown's Town due to poor road conditions.

"I would love to see more attention given to the youth", Douglas said.

He said if the roadway linking Alexandria to the community is fixed, many of those problems would be solved.

He also pointed out that fixing the roads would be beneficial to farmers as they would be able to deliver fresher produce in a more timely manner to establishments along the coastal areas.

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