Stakeholders embrace public awareness campaign
Petre Williams-Raynor, Contributing Editor
COCKPIT Country community stakeholders have welcomed the new public awareness campaign to enhance the way in which the key biodiversity area (KBA) is valued, while bracing for a fight to keep mining interests away.
"This campaign will not only give community members increased knowledge, but also empower them as to how to approach defending what is theirs. You know that sometimes 'might over right' takes place and so people really need to be empowered," said Lorna Williams-Christie, chairperson for the Cockpit Country Local Forest Management Committee (LFMC) North.
"People are realising that they have to stand up for what they want and try to empower each other to take care of the important things. We don't want a similar situation like the Goat Islands so we want persons to be aware of the value of the Cockpit Country," she added.
The campaign, called 'Cockpit Country is Our Home', kicked off Wednesday with a radio series on the KBA's offerings.
Funded primarily through the Windsor Research Centre and supported by the Jamaica Environment Trust and others, including Panos Caribbean, the campaign includes multiple electronic and print media ads, as well as social media advocacy.
There is, too, community engagement, through one-on-one exchanges, to give people needed information on the Cockpit Country, which supplies 40 per cent of Jamaicans with freshwater and is home to not only the Maroons, but also some 59 globally threatened species of plants and animals.
Hugh Dixon, executive director of the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency, has himself thrown his support behind the campaign.
STATE SNEAKY DISPOSITION
He noted that it is critical to get information on the Cockpit Country to people in order to effectively pour cold water on mining in the area.
"It is necessary at this time because of the sneaky disposition of the State and the way it negotiates. Anything in the way it negotiates our people and our environment requires critical monitoring by individuals, civil society organisations and the dissemination of valuable, factual information that will enable additional people to join in the campaign and get an understanding of the predicament they put us in," he told Rural Xpress.
"People's decision-making in Jamaica is [sometimes] limited by their lack of understanding and appreciation of the critical nature of some of our problems, and we tend to think short term because of our limited understanding. This is why the campaign is so critically important. As numbers increase, resilience to frivolous decisions will be more in place," he added.
Herbert Foster, chairman of the Cockpit Country LFMC South East, also gave the effort a thumbs up.
"If we can get the interest from people inside and outside of the Cockpit Country, I welcome it. I really don't want the bauxite industry in the Cockpit Country. I prefer some tourism so the awareness would be good," he said.
At the same time, Foster, who voiced his disenchantment with the apparent lack of interest among power brokers to identify alternative livelihood options, insisted it was past time Cockpit Country got the attention it deserved.
"I, for example, identify an area of the forest that need replanting, which would be a good little employment for persons around, but is pure talk. We need people to know that it is not only a bag a mouth, it is also action," Foster said.
Stakeholders, among them Maroons, have for years opposed bauxite mining in Cockpit Country, which is already under threat from forest conversion and pollution.
While Government has put an embargo on mining in the area, there are, nonetheless, existing prospecting leases, which continue to fuel concern that they could at some stage give mining the green light.