Sun | Dec 17, 2017

Earth Today | Ministry eyes Cockpit Country for community tourism

Published:Thursday | August 31, 2017 | 12:00 AMPetre Williams-Raynor
Bartlett
A section of the Cockpit Country Reserve in Trelawny.
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WITH ITS ruggedly beautiful landscape, rich biological diversity, storied past and warm people, Jamaica's Ministry of Tourism has eyes on Cockpit Country as it moves to expand community tourism.

"We are in fact just beginning to explore the many key values that that area offers, and one of the things that excites me about it is the multiple features which are in a lot of instances unique to this part of the world, of and also the fact that we have species, both of plants and of animals that are equally unique," Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett told The Gleaner.

"We have particular flora that has enormous potential for nutraceuticals ... to enable health and wellness activities and we want to preserve that. That for us is sustainable and it will not only provide a possibility for potential economic enrichment for people now, but forever," he added.

To that end, Bartlett said they would pursue discussions with stakeholders in Cockpit Country - home of the Leeward Maroons and the giant Swallowtail butterfly, among other species, and a significant source of fresh water for Jamaicans.

"We will be having more consultation with the stakeholders in that area as we build out the overall policy on community tourism and develop also the finance plan that we have through the EXIM Bank to be able to provide affordable loans to small and medium stakeholders for them to improve their ability to provide new and exciting experiences that can be had in the Cockpit Country," he said.

 

POLICY GOALS

 

The community tourism policy, published in 2015, has as one of its stated goals the "promotion of community tourism that is consistent with, and does not compromise, national policies for resource protection, cultural integrity and community governance".

This, even as the public awaits a boundary decision for Cockpit Country, one that has been years in coming and expected to usher in the official protection of the area, beyond the portion that now comprises the forest reserve.

Other policy goals include:

- facilitation of an internationally competitive, robust and inclusive community tourism sector;

- support for local communities and appropriate entrepreneurs and NGOs in local communities to develop export market-ready, sustainable community tourism experiences; and

- support for community tourism that creates the conditions to advance national policies and generate social, cultural, economic and environmental benefits for local communities.

"We feel more of our people should become involved. We feel that they have the talent, they have the ideas, they have the skills but they don't have the capital. So we establish this very special window in the EXIM Bank by ceding it with a billion Jamaican dollars, the first tranche of which was delivered in September last year," the tourism minister noted.

It is an option stakeholders such as the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency (STEA), which operates Cockpit Country Adventure Tours, see as a useful complement to project funding such as that provided through the Jamaica Social Investment Fund's Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI) that was financed through the World Bank and from which they benefited.

 

COLLATERAL CHALLENGES

 

Collateral requirements to access such funds can, however, be onerous, according to STEA boss Hugh Dixon.

"I welcome the idea of funds being made available to the sector, but it has to be borne in mind that there needs to be some additional guarantee. My recommendation is that there are two ways to overcome. One is to have serious monitoring of the credit so that you know the schedule and activities of the clients and you are enabling the process while it is there; what you call supervised lending," he said.

"The other way is for there to be a no-collateral approach that is associated with very clear reporting standards on how the loan is being utilised. There is the need in this economy for more supervised credit where the lender is monitoring the credit disbursements and the processes for which the credit is advanced and for you to guarantee the repayment and the success of the business," Dixon added.

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