Ronald Mason | Changing culture
The Jamaican society, for the period from 1980 to present, has experienced tremendous change. I chose 1980 because that period saw the start of raw division in society. More than 800 people were killed, political tribalism rose to the forefront, and values and attitudes deteriorated down the road to hell.
Civility was relegated to the lowest level, and the rude boy culture was greatly accepted. The society is now in free fall. Indiscipline is now the order of the day. Deportment, grooming, a sense of commitment to family, church, school and community are all at a low ebb. We need to arrest this steep decline. How is it to be done?
Fifty-three per cent of the population is under the age of 35 and some 13 per cent unemployed. The changing state of the society has left large numbers marginally employed and a large number unemployable. This long-standing problem has been recognised and various weak-kneed attempts to address it in the form of crash programmes, bollo work, JEEP and now HOPE have all shared the objective.
Here are some specific, quantifiable things that we should do. Train persons for the UN peacekeeping services. This would require linkages to be established with the JDF, a high degree of discipline, enhanced personal development, including becoming accepting of authority and working towards specific targets. All persons would be paid, because the UN pays the supplying country, through the military, more than US$1,000 per month for each participant. We would thus be able to give young persons another career option, and my understanding is that demand for peacekeeping personnel is significant.
Jamaica has very little geopolitical baggage, which is not likely to become an impediment in implementing such a programme. We have English language facility and minimal communicable-health problems. We also have a history of participating in UN peacekeeping operations, as in Darfur, Sudan. I would think it would be a feasible target to establish a 1,000-person complement for the UN.
A second area for immediate job creation is utilising young people as community health aides. We live in an area with communicable, tropical diseases: Zika, chik-V, dengue. Some of this has been done, but the scope for expansion seems obvious.
Environmental issues abound. Garbage and sanitation need to be addressed. We must get to the stage where all garbage is separated in plastic, glass and biodegradables. These are long-term career opportunities. Youth obesity has led to an explosion of juvenile diabetes. Young persons have not made the connection between drinking bag juice and sodas, and eating fried fast foods, and the resulting ill health. The reintroduction of a mandatory physical educational programme, anchored by a community health aide working with the school administration, would pay dividends. What would the impact be if we had 1,000 such trained and deployed across the country?
Jamaica once had a reputation for producing mahogany and its furniture by-products. Finding Jamaica mahogany in 2017 is almost an exercise in futility. We import large quantities of lumber and we have large acres of marginal land that would be suitable for the re-establishment of lumber trees, but it is
not an attractive investment because it does not generate short-term returns. If there was a forestry industry that would embark on a structured programme of tree planting, including fruit trees, we would be creating employment and generating economic activity.
Controlled environment agriculture is an area of activity that would do a number of things simultaneously. It would change the perception of machete, fork and hoe agriculture. It would give rise to the need for multiple skill sets. The application of irrigation, fertilisation, integrated pest management, plant life cycle identification; storage, packaging, quality control and distribution would all be required.
The economic benefits in creating an agro-processing industrial sector for local consumption, export and import substitution are all worthy of investigation. This is different from greenhouse technology. Greenhouse technology in this tropical country is more limited in the crops that may be produced in that environment.
Controlled-environment agriculture leaves one to identify specific elements for control. Heat and sun rays, water and pests are among those frequently targeted in controlled environments. There is a multibillion-dollar industry in ginger (The University of Hawaii has done extensive work on this and other specialised flowering plants). Tropical aquaculture is another large industry that we are not exploiting our competitive advantages. This industry can employ large numbers of persons to earn hard currency.
We need new approaches to solving the problem of indiscipline, and just increasing PATH benefits and creating more debt does not incorporate behaviour modification. It is the deterioration in the discipline in the society that is feeding the increase in crimes. Jamaica needs one hand formed into an iron fist, and the other, the velvet glove.