Sat | Oct 19, 2019

Editorial | Has Mr Fulton caved in on Bernard Lodge?

Published:Sunday | October 6, 2019 | 12:17 AM

We have wondered what Lenworth Fulton’s constituents in the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) have made of his recent flight into illogic, which, perhaps, more accurately, might be described as a cave-in to the Government. The JAS, now in its 124th year, promotes the interests of the farm sector, which Mr Fulton used to do, such as in April when, at the launch of Farmers’ Week, he lamented the increasing encroachment of real estate on agricultural lands, including at Bernard Lodge on the St Catherine plains.

“We recommend that pending and future housing developments, and urban expansion, make use of marginal lands,” which, he said, at the time, “… By keeping our agricultural land in agriculture and making smart choices in blending infrastructure and transportation ... we can potentially stave off the worst effects of climate change.”

Further, he highlighted the fact that 63 per cent of Jamaica wasn’t suited for agriculture, but that of 37 per cent of arable land, only 19.5 per cent is now available for farming, with most of the decline having taken place over the last half-century.

Mr Fulton, whose organisation isn’t financially self-sustaining and has to be propped up by the Government – 88 per cent of its J$117.7 million in income in 2018-19 was subvention from the State – has apparently had a change of heart with regard to Bernard Lodge, the former sugar plantation, where Prime Minister Andrew Holness plans his new city of 17,000 homes, commercial and recreational facilities as well as supporting infrastructure, on what the Government’s National Environment and Planning Agency categorised as Jamaica’s “most fertile” and “A1” soils.

NO OUTCRY

This newspaper makes a distinction between the construction of residential real estate on more than 2,000 acres of the property and, say, Gassan Azan’s proposed J$11-billion agro-industrial project, in which 400 acres will be utilised for farms, orchards and processing facilities. We support the latter, but eschew the former. Not so, Mr Fulton, who now sees as “hullabaloo” the complaints over the new proposed new encroachments on the Bernard Lodge property, given that there was no outcry when bits of the plantation were lopped off for housing, as well as for parts of the municipality of Portmore.

“You have 300,000 people in the area of Portmore, St Catherine, and the question is whether the new city will enhance jobs and development for those 300,000 people,” he said in an interview with the Observer newspaper. “We have Kingston to the east, which is decaying, Spanish Town to the north, which is also decaying. If there is going to be a new city, would it be appropriate on the Bernard Lodge property, or would it be better in Hill Run (St Catherine)?”

Supposedly, Mr Fulton believes the matter needs analysis, which he apparently believes he failed to provide in April. The inescapable logic, though, is that Jamaica’s limited arable land, especially its “most fertile … A1” soils, should be retained for agriculture, rather than planted in concrete and steel. That’s good for the economy and food security.

Around 200,000 Jamaicans work in agriculture, albeit at comparatively low productivity. However, the island spends around US$900 million on imported foods, which the experts say can be cut by a quarter, although Mr Azan has more ambitious prognostications. Some of these gains can come from the use of technology and modern farming practices, but it can’t happen if the best lands are expropriated for real estate.

Further, climate and agricultural experts warn that global warming could, in the relatively near future, lead to a one-third reduction in crop yields. If all things remain equal, it would require a third more land to produce the same amount of food. But that land won’t be available for farming if it is under concrete. An inevitable outcome, in the circumstance, is rising food prices

We agree with Mr Fulton that large swathes of Kingston and Spanish Town are in decay. Unlike him, though, our solution is not to build new cities. Instead, we propose a major, sustained assault on urban blight and integrated development that better matches new commercial activity with existing residential environments. If new cities are necessary, they should be built on marginal land, not the “most fertile” and “A1” soils.