Valerie Dixon, Contributor
ONE OF my favourite quotations goes like this: "It is not crooks we fear in business, but honest men who don't know what they are doing." This could be why the Canoe Valley, which is a part of Jamaica's last remaining dry limestone forests situated in south Manchester, is facing disaster and destruction.
A meeting was convened recently to discuss the imminent threats, and to look at economic opportunities that abound in Canoe Valley and its environs through community tourism. Charles Swaby, a highly respected environmentalist with vast knowledge of Jamaica's south coast, expressed heartfelt dismay at the problems that are now engulfing this once-pristine and undisturbed area that contains many endemic flora and fauna.
Citizens who know the area well believe that even though it contains private land ownership, successive governments have sidestepped the issue of declaring the Canoe Valley a protected area for many years. The area was home to the Tainos (incorrectly called Arawaks) and was their second-largest settlement on the island. The archaeological resources in the area include several known Taino sites, including caves with petroglyphs (rock carvings) and burial caves. Many artefacts, including the famous wooden carving called the 'Bird Man', were removed from the area in the 1700s and sent to the British Museum.
Many species - such as the three remaining Jamaican manatees, crocodiles, sea turtles and numerous birds - inhabit the area. The last remaining stand of endemic thatch palms is now heavily denuded due to overharvesting. This area has a mixture of unique, almost-undisturbed natural habitats such as wetlands, mineral springs, rivers, mangroves and sand dunes.
LITTLE REGARD FOR ENVIRONMENT
Successive administrations have shown very little respect for Mother Nature, as the people who call themselves 'experts' and 'consultants' are hell-bent on carrying out activities such as limestone mining in the Canoe Valley. Many of them do not understand that Jamaica has been blessed and endowed with unique ecosystems that are like a precious diamond necklace. If one link gets broken and some diamonds are lost, then the value and beauty could be gone forever.
Mining has been taking place in Jamaica for over many years with many more years to go before the mineral deposits are depleted. Mining is the source of all the substances that cannot be obtained by industrial processes or through agriculture. Mining reaps huge profits for the companies that own them and provides employment. It is also a source of revenue for governments. However, despite its economic importance, the effects of mining on the environment is a pressing issue.
Oftentimes politicians and mining stakeholders offer the promise of jobs, which is an effective strategy of neutralising local opposition to mining projects that are not always in the best interest of the local population. This is the main reason why the concerns of environmentalists have such a hard time being taken seriously.
It is interesting to note that the developed countries pass stringent laws to protect their environments, but they know that developing countries do not have such protection and that leaders are easily swayed by instant material gains and gratification and are not always concerned about the future and the legacy to coming generations.
Thankfully, there are experts and consultants who know what they are doing and know that there is a lucrative, worldwide market that is interested in sustainable tourism and which hankers for natural attractions such as the Canoe Valley.
ALTERNATIVE ECONOMIC ACTIVITIES
Under the Countrystyle Community Tourism Network's initiative called Villages as Businesses, a plethora of jobs can be created using the immense biodiversity found in the Canoe Valley. There can be organised tours for schools and visitors of Taino sites, establishment of trails for hikers, birdwatchers and nature lovers. Other potential attractions include the re-establishment of the fishing industry - commercial and recreational; kayaking, snorkelling in the wetlands, rivers and springs and many other nature-based job opportunities.
Communities are now benefiting from TEAM Jamaica Community Tourism Tours Development and training, that is facilitated through the National Best Community Foundation/Countrystyle Community Tourism, in collaboration with the Jamaica Social Investment Fund/Rural Economic Development Initiative programme. This will enable participants to be professional in being good hosts to local and foreign visitors, as they take advantage of the many economic spin-offs from community tourism.
So to meet the need for new economic growth, it seems that the time has come to give honest, qualified and experienced persons who know what they are doing the opportunity to show their talents and capabilities.
Valerie Dixon is a public affairs commentator based in central Jamaica. Send comments to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.