JIS News

In a move directed at conserving and restoring the country’s tropical forest resources, Jamaica has reached a debt-for-nature swap agreement with the United States (US) amounting to some US$16 million (J$987 million).
This agreement has officially launched the local Tropical Forest Conservation Fund, with Jamaica giving its commitment to preserve the island’s natural flora and fauna.
The launch, which took place at the Ministry of Agriculture’s Old Hope Road offices yesterday (October 8), involved the Ministry, the United States government and the United States-based Nature Conservancy.
In his address, Minister of Agriculture, Roger Clarke said the establishment of the Fund promised enormous benefits to Jamaica. “The two most obvious are the replacement of our US dollar obligation with that of a local currency and the restoration of forest land in priority areas,” he explained.
The Minister expressed gratitude for the debt-for-nature swap agreement, and pointed out that the Fund would be used to support local forest conservation activities, adding that Hurricane Ivan recently devastated approximately 780 hectares of plantation forests across the island.
Although the official signing that established the Conservation Fund took place last month, he said the process began in 2001, “following a favourable response from the United States government to the Jamaican government’s request for debt relief under that country’s Tropical Forest Conservation Act. Subsequently in February 2002, following a Cabinet submission from the Ministry of Agriculture, approval was given for its establishment”.
Lauding Jamaica for its lush, raw natural beauty, United States Ambassador to Jamaica, Sue Cobb, in her address, stressed that it was critical to safeguard the country’s forests.
Mrs. Cobb, who said she was a nature seeker, discovering many of Jamaica’s natural habitats for herself, said that beyond the damage wrought by [Hurricane] Ivan, Jamaica’s forests were under pressure as land is cleared to accommodate homes and to establish farms.
“The practice of harvesting hardwoods for use as charcoal contributes to the destruction of Jamaica’s forests, which are disappearing at the rate of one per cent each year. This on-going erosion destroys wildlife habitats, accelerates soil erosion, and puts hillside communities at greater risk of landslides,” she argued.
The Tropical Forest Conservation Fund will see the Government committing to fund projects to preserve and restore tropical forest resources in Jamaica over the next 20 years. The Fund will be made available to environmental, forestry or conservation non-governmental organisations, as well as scientific and academic institutions.
Meanwhile, Country Director for The Nature Conservancy, Terence Williams said Jamaica was among few countries in the world, “that demonstrate more unique biodiversity”.
“Even while we celebrate this windfall, we must know that the needs are much greater.my calculations are that we will need J$100 million over the next 20 years. So this US$16 million provides us a great opportunity to leverage that money,” he said.

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