Sat | Jan 16, 2021

Letter of the Day | Clarity needed on the grand J’can tree-planting campaign

Published:Saturday | October 10, 2020 | 12:07 AM

THE EDITOR, Madam:

In a laudable presentation to the United Nations last year, Prime Minister Andrew Holness justified the importance of trees and made a commitment for Jamaica to plant three million trees in three years.

The prime minister’s commitment, aimed at climate change mitigation, seems to suggest that funding from various international sources (and local corporations?) will be available in order to procure seed and produce seedlings for distribution to planters on generous terms. This approach would be crucial to guarantee success, but raises a number of questions for clarification.

First, what is the rationale for three million trees? Is that goal the extent of Jamaica’s contribution to the global target? Also, why three years to plant three million trees? What happens after the planting has been done? Our most productive timber trees (pine, cedar, teak) can take 15 to 20 years to reach economic maturity, which could relate to optimum carbon sequestration capacity. Is that the sort of outcome that is envisaged? If so, perhaps the goal should really be “to plant and grow” three million trees to maturity in 20 years!

Other questions arise – where is the land on which to plant three million trees? Also, what species of trees should be grown which could adapt (and be productive) to the variety of environmental site conditions that may be encountered? Who would plant and grow those trees, and with what incentives? Climate change mitigation may be enough to mobilise young people and community groups, even corporate entities, but farmers and landowners may need more than recognition of their patriotism!

Over the years, the country has participated in many tree-planting campaigns, one of which targeted one million in 1955 to commemorate Jamaica’s 300 years of British rule. Prior to that was the Forestry Department’s drive to heal the scars of shifting cultivation, while planters invested in coconuts and citrus on their estates and the Agriculture and Public Gardens departments promoted mangoes and other exotic fruit trees.

Since Independence, planting programmes have targeted rural employment, watershed protection, commercial timber, private planting, biodiversity, to mention a few, some of which were launched by earlier prime ministers.

Urban and Roadside Plantings

Unfortunately, little attention was given to urban and roadside plantings for shade and amenity. It is a disgrace to see the state of the trees on Lady Musgrave Road, while newly constructed buildings have not even considered landscaping for reduction of the excessive heat of the sun’s radiation.

So where are we today? Without doubt, there are still many hectares of idle, under-productive land, watershed areas that still require conservation and protection, abandoned sugar cane plantations, but can such lands be made available for meeting the prime minister’s proposed commitment? In essence, is there a plan being developed to start the programme in 2020, within the framework of the COVID-19 pandemic? I look forward to positive responses from your readers.

GUY SYMES

Managing Director (Retired)

The Forest Conservancy