Innovative St Mary farmers to get UNDP award
Orantes Moore, Gleaner Writer
JEFFREY TOWN, St Mary:
THE UNITED Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is set to award an innovative group of St Mary farmers with a cash prize of up to US$15,000 at a prestigious ceremony to be held in New York city next month.
Earlier this year, more than 1,200 grassroots organisations from 121 countries applied to be a part of the UNDP's Equator Initiative, which rewards local and indigenous groups for developing sustainable community-based solutions.
The Jeffrey Town Farmers' Association (JTFA) is one of 35 winners of the Equator Prize 2014 and the first group from the English-speaking Caribbean to receive the accolade.
Over the past decade, the association has transformed itself from an informal cooperative into a registered limited development company, and helped regenerate the local area by establishing water-harvesting and solar-powered systems, and launching a community radio station for young people.
JTFA secretary Ivy Gordon said the organisation has come a long way since it was founded in 1991 by agriculturalists from western St Mary who were looking for new opportunities following the demise of the banana trade.
She told Rural Xpress: "I was genuinely delighted that we were selected. We've won a lot of prizes over the years, but I think this is the most significant.
"The Equator Initiative is looking for resilient communities that have gone above and beyond to make a change, particularly in areas such as climate change, disaster risk reduction (DRR), alternative energy and water harvesting, and we fit some of those criteria.
Gordon, who retired to Jamaica from Britain 20 years ago, believes the association's exceptional DRR work is a key factor that has led them to success.
She said: "We use the funding we receive from agencies to run our own disaster committee in conjunction with the parish council's disaster committee coordinator.
"We've received training from the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, and have a group of people from across the community who assess which people and homes are at risk.
"It's not that we can redress all these problems, but it's important that we identify those at risk, so when an event takes place, we are able to help ourselves back together.
"When Hurricane Ivan hit Jamaica in September 2004, our roads were blocked; we had no telephones; and were one of the last communities to get light back, that didn't happen until around Heroes weekend in October. It was chaos, and felt as if we had been forgotten.
"And yet by 2012, when Hurricane Sandy came, we were only without light for the day of the storm because we have solar electricity; farmers were able to store chickens in our freezers; and our disaster teams went out and cleared one side of the road. We were much better able to take care of ourselves."
While the JTFA's achievements are outstanding, Gordon insists there are lots of similar groups across the country with the potential to exceed the association's accomplishments.
She explained: "All you need is a group of some sort - rather than a one-man band - who have something they want to achieve; and usually, the more necessary that thing is, the further it will drive you.
"Also, the group must be transparently and democratically run. And you must always hold on to your integrity, regardless. Those things are essential."