Writing in this newspaper on Sunday, Bernard Headley, the University of the West Indies criminologist, offered a six-pronged strategy for tackling Jamaica's crisis of urban violence, which this newspaper commends to the country's policymakers.
They should find favour with the People's National Party (PNP) administration, for some of Professor Headley's ideas have more than faint echoes of Michael Manley's strategies of the 1970s, of which Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller should be familiar.
The suggestion with which we are particularly taken is that we "redeploy", from urban centres, back to their "rural roots", Jamaican criminal deportees, who would engage in agriculture. This redeployment would, of course, be voluntary.
Said Professor Headley: "Projects like these, when sustained, reduce risks (of criminality and violence) by promoting values of inclusion, giving excluded, vulnerable members of the society opportunities to participate in national development."
This is a kind of a back-to-land programme which informed Manley's ultimately failed Pioneer Farm and Land Lease schemes.
These were subsets of the larger Pioneer Corps project, under which young people were to be trained for up to six months in cooperative management, the identification of potential economic projects, the writing of project proposals, and translating ideas into businesses. They were expected to then identify economic possibilities in their communities and implement them.
In the case of the Pioneer Farms/Land Lease programme, young people would be settled on lands that had been lying idle, on which they would grow crops. There were hopes that not only would these schemes reduce unemployment, especially, among young people, but reduce the food bill, with which, nearly 40 years later, Jamaica is still grappling. Then, like now, Jamaica faced a balance of payments and fiscal crisis and was engaged in difficult, protracted negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.
Manley's projects, as a tool for fixing the country's deeper economic problems, were wishfully juvenile. But as social interventions, of the type discussed by Professor Headley, they were sound.
The problem for Manley was timing. His ideas were perceived to be extensions of the PNP's then democratic socialism. In the climate of the cold war, in which Jamaica was an active front, consensus was impossible.
Ideological schism resolved
That is no longer the case. Jamaica's ideological schism has long since been resolved. Potentially good solutions to deep social problems need no longer be summarily rejected on the basis of partisan politics.
Indeed, this newspaper, in the recent past, suggested a major focus on agriculture as part of efforts to stabilise rural communities in the face of a near collapse of the bauxite industry.
But the small-scale, peasant-type farming, which is the likely initial outcome of Professor Headley's proposal, should not be the ultimate goal of these projects. At least, we might divine hub-and-spoke arrangements in which output of the small producers feeds into a wider distribution/processing systems, which in turn provide technical support. Further, Manley's idea of larger cooperative farms should be revisited.
However, while we support the social logic of such interventions and agree that they can provide economic value added, they ought not to romanticised, as they were more than a generation ago, as the answer to our economic difficulties. Emergency production plans of that kind won't work.
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