Thu | Nov 14, 2019

Editorial | The contortionist of Bernard Lodge

Published:Tuesday | October 22, 2019 | 12:10 AM

If Lenworth Fulton ever contemplates a change of career, he might consider becoming a contortionist. Judging from his wriggling act on the Bernard Lodge affair, he’d probably be good at it.

Mr Fulton is president of the Jamaica Agricultural Society, which should make him the chief advocate for the farm sector, which he used to attempt to be, including insisting, up to April, that Jamaica’s most fertile soil should be left for agriculture.

On that score, he was opposed to Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ plan for a new city, or township, involving the construction of 17,000 homes, as well as recreational, commercial and industrial facilities, on the Bernard Lodge estate on the plains of St Catherine, which, according to the Government’s National Environment and Planning Agency, possesses Jamaica’s “most fertile … A1” soils.

Mr Fulton has had a change of heart recently. He no longer has an a priori position against allocating more of the prime Bernard Lodge lands to real estate. As he wrote in this newspaper recently, he is willing to accept 7,000 homes and seems comfortable with the Government’s increase, by three-quarters, to 3,000 acres the amount of land in the development earmarked for farming and agro-industrial activities.

It is not yet clear, with this adjustment, if the Government is still committed to the 17,000 homes and, if that is the case, whether these houses will now be constructed on the 1,700-plus acres of land that will be left over from the original allocation. It could be, too, that more land is being allocated to the project.

The stated reason for Mr Fulton’s flip on the Bernard Lodge development was that the Kingston/St Andrew metropolitan region to its east and Spanish Town to the north were “decaying”.

He concluded that “Bernard Lodge estate is the only feasible spot” and sought to assuage prospective critics by calling for a modern market and a state-of-the-art medical facility to be part of the development. He also proposed a university for the nearby municipality of Portmore.

Mr Fulton’s analysis represents crooked thinking. It doesn’t, as he supposes, advance the fundamental interest of agriculture.

Until his anamorphosis, it used to be a refrain of Mr Fulton that while only 37 per cent of Jamaica used to be suitable for agriculture, merely 19.5 per cent is now available for farming, with the great bulk of the loss having taken place over the past 50 years, as real estate encroached on fertile lands. He used to want that to end.

DECREASED AGRICULTURAL YIELDS

Now, he confuses the argument with laments that stock should have been taken decades ago of the criticism of the “hullabaloo” being made about the Bernard Lodge project. The fact is, however, any fertile land now planted in concrete and steel will be lost to agriculture, which flies in the face of the Government’s declared policy of working towards food security and reducing a food-import bill that is headed towards US$1 billion annually.

Moreover, climate-change experts fear that a warming planet will decrease agricultural yields by a third, which means it will take that much more land to produce the same amount of food.

Even more burlesque is Mr Fulton’s assumption that decayed cities and towns should lead to the development of greenfield communities on agricultural lands, with all the implications thereof.

Government policy should, first, be about urban renewal in communities that, in many instances, already possess basic infrastructure and social services. It can’t be beyond the ability of policy-makers and planners to devise schemes that creatively employ public- and private-sector resources and community assets including sweat equity for transformation – whether in Kingston/St Andrew; Spanish Town, St Catherine; or May Pen, Clarendon.

If, as a last resort, new townships or cities are required, they should be built on marginal lands, of which there is plenty in relatively close vicinity to Bernard Lodge.