- SCJ Holdings Limited (SCJH) is anticipating positive and favourable public response, particularly from young people, to its national ‘Navel String’ project, which targets the cultivation of one million trees islandwide, over the next four years.
- This optimism stems from what the company’s Chief Executive Officer, John Gayle, says is a growing appreciation by Jamaicans of the importance of trees in safeguarding the environment.
- Mr. Gayle says there is also increased recognition of the health benefits to be derived from the consumption of fruits.
SCJ Holdings Limited (SCJH) is anticipating positive and favourable public response, particularly from young people, to its national ‘Navel String’ project, which targets the cultivation of one million trees islandwide, over the next four years.
This optimism stems from what the company’s Chief Executive Officer, John Gayle, says is a growing appreciation by Jamaicans of the importance of trees in safeguarding the environment.
Mr. Gayle says there is also increased recognition of the health benefits to be derived from the consumption of fruits.
The Navel String project, being implemented at a cost of over $25 million, primarily aims to: increase food production; provide a source of fruits to boost agro-processing; provide employment; increase the country’s stock of timber trees to provide lumber; safeguard the environment by fortifying and protecting watersheds; and support the national climate change initiative.
The initiative was launched in February at the National Water Commission’s (NWC) Innswood Artificial Groundwater Aquifer Recharge facility in St. Catherine.
Its implementation is consistent with the Government’s Job Creation and Economic Growth Strategic Priority, focusing on the development and growth of key productive sectors (agriculture/rural development), food security, and facilitating protection of the natural environment; as well as the Environmental and Climate Change Strategic Priority.
The SCJH is undertaking the project in partnership with several Ministries, Departments, and Agencies. These include: the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, under which the SCJH falls; Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA); Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS); Forestry Department; Jamaica 4-H Clubs; and Social Development Commission (SDC).
Mr. Gayle informs that a substantial portion of the SCJH’s over 100,000 acres of land has been identified for the initial planting of seedlings, and the process has commenced. These former sugar cane lands are situated in St. Thomas, St. Catherine, Clarendon, Westmoreland, and Trelawny.
“We have earmarked some 1,000 acres….in small parcels…which will be targeted…during the project’s first two years,” he says. He advises that these areas have been zoned as forest reserves, to safeguard them against potentially destructive illicit activities.
Mr. Gayle says, over time, lands in other areas are to be identified, zoned, and incorporated into the project.
The Chief Executive Officer informs that seedlings and other planting materials are being provided by the Ministry of Agriculture, through nurseries established at the research stations, as well as by the Forestry Department.
He says initial planting is already underway at some 39 primary and high schools affiliated with the Jamaica 4-H Clubs, and are situated close to SCJH property in the five parishes. Young people in SDC organisations have also been targeted for participation.
“We aim to ensure that children and, by extension, adults…understand the critical role that trees play in our development and…growth,” he notes.
As it relates to funding for the project, Mr. Gayle informs that the SCJH is injecting “interim capital” until the local and multilateral partners come on board. “We are comfortable that we will source the funding… (based on) discussions with a number of partners,” he says.
Mr. Gayle anticipates that the project will resonate among Jamaicans and continue to grow. “We are hoping that by laying this platform, everyone… (will) support us…by starting to plant trees. The vision is that, once we have accomplished this one million trees, the project will continue and grow,” he says.
Agriculture Minister, Hon. Derrick Kellier, is commending the SCJH for embarking on the project and welcomed the inclusion of fruit trees.
He notes that there is a “hungry market…locally and overseas…for our…produce,” which was confirmed during a recent visit to London, where he learnt of huge demand for local fruit.
“Whereas Jamaica may not have the huge acreages to compete with big countries in the production of certain crops, we do have the right flavours, and we must take advantage of niche markets, especially as it relates to the supply of tropical fruits, where we have a competitive advantage,” the Minister says.
Mr. Kellier also welcomes the involvement young people and community groups in the project, noting “I believe that, increasingly, young people are recognising the value of a career in agriculture.”
Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change Minister, Hon. Robert Pickersgill, in also applauding the initiative, notes that it will complement the national reforestation programme being undertaken by the Forestry Department, for which he has portfolio responsibility.
He also cited the Private Forestry Programme, targeting private landowners, whom, he explains, are encouraged to plant trees on their properties “for financial benefit.”
Mr. Pickersgill says “the involvement of the communities and, in particular, the youth, is to be commended, as it is essential that the message is shared with Jamaicans from all walks of life, on the importance of planting and maintaining trees.”
In her remarks, SCJH Chairperson, Donna Scott-Mottley, informs that the Navel String project evolved out of a need identified by the entity’s board and management to undertake a partnership engagement that would create sustainable economic and social development.
She notes that the project title is synonymous with the rural custom of persons burying their children’s birth cords at the root of trees, to which they have a particular attachment.
She says the hope is that Jamaicans will have a similar attachment to the project and plant trees to sustain the environment and contribute to the country’s progress.
“What we want to do is create, in our people, a connectedness to this land…to make people understand that when we say that ‘we are Jamaicans’, it means something… that we are part of the birth of this country, (that) we are part of sustaining the development of this country, and we have to build the kind of nation of which we would be intensely proud,” Mrs. Scott-Mottley says.
“I…thank everybody for the way in which they have responded to the (project’s) naming…, and my hope is that all the young people, who participate in this programme, will find a connectedness to the trees,” she adds.
National Water Commission (NWC) President, Mark Burnett, says the decision to select the site of the NWC’s multibillion-dollar Innswood artificial ground-water aquifer as a “natural marriage.”
“Both projects recognise that the sustainable management of Jamaica’s watersheds and water resources is absolutely critical to the achievement of our Vision 2030 Jamaica goals, as well as the preservation of our environment, not just for ourselves, but future generations,” he says.
Member of Parliament for South Central St. Catherine, where the project was launched, Dr. Andrew Wheatley, expresses the hope that “the programme will expand…in the schools where it becomes part of the curriculum for students to have a greater appreciation for the environment.”