JIS News

The Government is moving to strengthen the link between agriculture and forests, that is necessary for food security and rural development.
This symbiotic relationship is often lost and needs to be strengthened, according to a study by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
The study found that decision makers often overlook the value of forestry in poverty reduction and its contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), due to a lack of data on forest resources and productivity. It further states that linkages between forestry and the wider national agenda are weak or non-existent, and that there is need for countries to address this.
The Ministry of Agriculture, in recognising the importance of Jamaica’s forests, with respect to food security, rural development and poverty alleviation, is changing the status of the Forestry Department to an Executive Agency, a process which should be completed within one year.
As an Executive Agency, the Forestry Department will have greater autonomy, be more service oriented and technically adept.
“The Department will be working more with targets, taking new approaches to data collection, forecasting and planning, as well as focussing on modernising corporate services and technical support and improving compliance [with Forestry laws], through increased public awareness,” says Conservator of Forests, Marilyn Headley, in an interview with JIS News.
She argues that non-compliance is largely the result of a lack of awareness, not just of the laws, but the dangers that breaking conservation laws posed to human life.
“Hills without sturdy tree cover cannot sustain agriculture, as top soil, crops and infrastructure will always be lost in heavy rains,” she says, emphasising that for food security and rural development, “keeping trees on our hills is therefore critical, and our theme this year for National Tree Planting Day, ‘Deforested Hillside: Downstream Disaster’, was in keeping with this concept.”
Stressing the inter-connectedness between forests and agriculture, Miss Headley urges citizens to grow trees especially in the mountains and river beds, allowing for 20 metres from the river bank, to protect food, property and life.
She indicates that the new agency will be geared to providing the research and technical data needed to inform the wider national agendas, exemplifying the FAO recommendations for economic growth and poverty alleviation.
The FAO study notes that increases in what it called “recent poverty,” are imminent, arising out of shocks, such as natural disasters and unexpected economic changes. “People,” the study says, “are not poor in an absolute sense, but in relation to a particular socio-economic context.”
“This is demonstrated in the current plight of Jamaica’s forestry and agricultural sectors, following three consecutive years of hurricane or storm damage. This kind of natural disaster has definitely resulted in shocks to the Jamaican economy, with land slippages and infrastructural damage, negatively affecting the production of several crops,” Miss Headley tells JIS News.
Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Christopher Tufton, has reported that Tropical Storm Gustav, which lashed the island in August, caused 79 per cent damage to Jamaica’s banana and plantain industries, leading to an ‘export pull-out’ by Jamaica Producers Group, a leading banana producer and exporter.
Dr. Tufton assures however, that “in an effort to protect the quality of life for the small farmers and other residents in affected areas, discussions are underway to diversify crop production on lands that were cultivated with bananas by Jamaica Producers Group.”
Consistent with the FAO’s thrust towards food security and the part which the forest and agriculture play, the Ministry of Agriculture is taking a multi-sectoral approach to food security and rural development, encouraging players from all sectors to join the holistic effort, in the interest of a sustainable food security programme.
Similarly, the Forestry Department and the FAO are encouraging multi-crop production or diversification, especially in forest areas, while encouraging farmers in and around forests to invest, not just in agricultural crops and or animal husbandry, but also in forest trees.