Sun | Nov 17, 2019

Bernard Lodge farming boost

Published:Thursday | October 17, 2019 | 12:16 AMNickoy Wilson/Gleaner Writer
Hugh Johnson (left), president of the Small Business Association of Jamaica, shows peppers grown on his farm at Bernard Lodge, St Catherine, to Prime Minister Andrew Holness during a tour of the property yesterday.
Hugh Johnson (left), president of the Small Business Association of Jamaica, shows peppers grown on his farm at Bernard Lodge, St Catherine, to Prime Minister Andrew Holness during a tour of the property yesterday.

The proposed Bernard Lodge township hailed by the Holness administration as a model of mixed-use development will have 76 per cent more lands designated for farming, a senior government minister revealed yesterday.

The St Catherine town, slated for a combination of homes, commercial enterprises, and farms, will have 3,000 acres reserved for agriculture, or 1,300 more than initially planned, Daryl Vaz, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, said. That swathe represents more than 60 per cent of the less than 5,000 acres that constitutes the development.

Just under 2,000 acres will be allocated to residential and commercial infrastructure.

Vaz was on a tour of farmlands in the Bernard Lodge Estate region with Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

The policy U-turn was announced after months of pressure from civil society, farming and community groups, as well as the parliamentary Opposition, that the Bernard Lodge lands represented some of Jamaica’s most fertile soils and that they should not be covered in concrete.

Despite yesterday’s announcement, president of the Small Business Association of Jamaica Hugh Johnson still harbours concerns about possible contamination of water resources in the area.

“With the challenge or danger it poses to the aquifer in putting concrete across this vast expanse of space, with the food security issue that we have, I think it’s best to reconsider,” said Johnson, who is also a farmer.

“I am not against massive development, just not the way it is going to be done.”

INTEGRATED DEVELOPMENT

But Holness sought to dispel those fears, arguing that the Bernard Lodge outlay would be a milestone “integrated development”.

“This is not a city. You would recognise as well that the development will have an agricultural component, a residential component, and a very small commercial component, all working together as one to address the issues that you have pointed out such as maintenance of the aquifer, sustainability of the development,” the prime minister said.

Joining the tour later on, Norman Walker, president of the Sunshine City Chamber of Commerce, also expressed concern about contamination of the water table.

“Last year, we were asked to give our views on this project. We came and we examined the property and we requested an environmental impact assessment, which I can’t say, as of today, that I have seen any report on that,” said Walker.

“In addition to that request, looking around on the property, when I look at the valuable water table, the chamber is extremely concerned. What protection would be given to the aquifers, the wells? I know that we have one of the best water tables anywhere in Jamaica. Our concern from a chamber is how will it be protected.”