Use what we grow, and grow what we use
Sometimes the answer to a problem is so close to you that you cannot see it. Take energy. Every day we wake up, the sun rises, full of energy and promise. Yet we ignore it and depend on other sources of energy instead, which in fact are sources for which the sun provided energy in times past, which years later resulted in oil, and coal, and liquid gas.
But there is material on which the sun works much shorter to produce energy which is readily available, and ignoring these energy stores could be an error in the long run. The cost of this error is climbing daily as we ignorantly forget we are a tropical country blessed with a vast, virtually untapped energy source which is fast growing, renewable and environmentally friendly.
Take a look at the scrap metal trade. Before metal got scarce, it was dug from the earth. Now, it is being reused. If we can prevent the pilferage of metal still in use, the scrap metal trade is a viable source of funds for our nation.
Besides the sun and the wind for energy, there is another energy source all around us if we can open our eyes and see it. Only in this case as well, we will have to learn to use it in a renewable way or we will end up stripped to the ground, as the experience of some of our near neighbours has shown.
What am I talking about? This overlooked renewable source is our greenery, of course. More specifically, I speak of biomass, or all formerly or currently living matter containing carbon. When charcoal is obtained from trees, the trees are cut to the ground and the hills denuded, unless, of course, they are planted back.
In Jamaica, sadly, this tends more often than not to be the case. But there is another process which also uses any carbon material, but in this case the trees do not have to be destroyed.
This process uses carbon scraps: scraps of trees (limbs, branches, leaves, trimmings of hedges, prunings, green waste, especially that produced after storms and hurricanes) but can also use other scraps (old newspaper, used cardboard boxes, paper, wooden pallets) including agricultural waste. These scraps are turned into 'biochar' through an innovative process that takes place at a lower heat than traditional charcoal.
And guess what? The resultant product: 'Bio-charcoal' or 'biochar' can be used for energy, but it is more useful in the soil where its millions of micro-pores provide a home for useful organisms, including those in the compost, thus it decreases leaching of fertilisers, and allows for better water absorption. Just think of the last time you took some probiotics, like yoghurt for an upset stomach?
Well, think of it as soils being given bonded stores of 'good' bacteria, to fight off moulds, blights, and fungi which are negatively affecting specific Jamaican crops such as ginger. In the future, as a biotechnology application, substrates such as biochar will be nano-implanted, with bacteria specifically 'bred' to fight off and stave off attacks from these situations.
Phosphorus, especially, is adsorbed making it more easily available for crops. Based on experiments being conducted around the world, agricultural savings of 25 per cent and up can be obtained through larger crop yields and less fertiliser usage. Think about it, even now farmers can attest to the fact that crops grow better in soil from charcoal piles or when the soil is supplemented with ash.
And guess what? We are cleaning up the environment at the same time.
And guess what? Biochar stays in the soil for thousands of years, making it good for the climate (sequesters carbon). It has been suggested as one of the carbon-mitigation steps in combating climate change at the United Nations-sponsored conference on climate change in Poznan, Poland.
And guess what? Biochar can be made and sold, locally and overseas. It will be another source of revenue.
And guess what? Biochar can be used to redeem land, such as from mining. This is an avenue we will be exploring in a big way in the months to come.
We approached the Environ-mental Foundation of Jamaica with a biochar project and they, having perceived the value of biochar, provided funds to the Biotechnology Centre, UWI, to pursue this endeavour. To date, we have built two machines, one simple (can be used on any farm and rural community) and a larger more complex unit capable of producing biochar and drying crops such as ginger and turmeric at the same time.
We have built these machines and are using them to produce biochar for the first time in Jamaica. One exciting raw material we will be using is bamboo, which grows an amazing 30 feet per year! Jamaica will be hearing more and more about farmed bamboo, and its potential for energy, soil remediants, and other products from sustainable stands of plants.
We are in the process of final testing and patenting these machines before we release them to the public for use in making more farm-based energy and soil remediants.
The future is bright from our angle. And it is carbon black.
Dr Sylvia Mitchell, Medicinal Plant Research Group, The Biotechnology Centre, University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Jamaica
Dr Trevor Lee, Scientific ConsultantMichael Barnett, Executive Director, New Horizons Skill Training Facility, Engineer Consultant
Fruit salesman flouts 'No Vending' law
I bring an urgent matter to your attention. For years, there has been a man selling fruits just outside the Wortley Home near Manor Park, just above Cassava Piece, and IMMEDIATELY BEHIND a sign that declares, 'No Vending Zone'.
The original vendor was even shot and killed at this site, and his sons have now taken over the 'business'. Why can't he be moved? Does he work for the police? Do the police at Constant Spring not see him - with his two vans?
Have you ever seen the high-end cars out there in the mornings and on Saturdays buying fruits? There is even a motorcycle cop watching traffic in the mornings who parks at the 'No Vending' sign.
Why can't this vendor be moved? Is it only the downtown vendors who are targeted?
Deplorable Middle Quarters to Newmarket thoroughfare
Several days ago, the Middle Quarters to Newmarket road (a section of a main north-south route) was blocked to draw attention to the deplorable condition of the thoroughfare, which is little better than a dry river course.
Even a Cabinet member in his/her SUV would find it a gut-wrenching, painfully slow drive, much less the people trying to make a living with their 'deportee' cars transporting children to school or in their pickups with produce. The tour buses would have to add an extra 40 miles to come and go via Ferris to save their passengers from this experience.
Mr P.J. Patterson left a beautifully paved road from Newmarket to Bethel Town. It would be wonderful if Mr J.C. Hutchinson could do the same for this piece of road.
Fix West Rural St Andrew roads
I am writing to you about the deplorable condition of the main roads from Stony Hill to Parks Road, and the Mannings Hill-Smokey Vale route to Havendale in West Rural St Andrew. The Jamaica Urban Transit Company buses run on these roads, which are in desperate need of repair. The situation can get no worse.
People have to be digging down road banks to fill the potholes with dirty. When motor vehicles pass by, there is a haze of dust. When rain falls, the entire area is transformed into mud and is washed away, resulting in residents having to fill the holes again.
Then we have the National Water Commission. So many gallons of water go to waste from pipes all along the roads. We deserve better than this.
And there are problems with the Jamaica Public Service Company. Some street lights are on all day, while other lights don't work at all.
We the residents of this constituency don't block roads; we are waiting for help. Over to you, National Works Agency, NWC and JPS. We want to hear from you.
Cavaliers DistrictStony Hill PO, Kingston 9
Has the public-sector modernisation vision died?
The Public Sector Modernisation Programme (PSMP) started in 1988 under the name of the Government Administrative Reform Programme, funded by the World Bank, and has gone through numerous phases since 1988. After reading the 2011-12 Auditor General's Report, I ask the simple question, has the PSMP vision died?
Why have I come to this conclusion? I quote the following from the report (pages 107-108):
8.2.126 The audit of the accounting records and financial transactions of the ministry revealed systemic weaknesses in the controls governing the management of its resources. Consequently, we found unsatisfactory conditions such as: arrears in the reconciliation of bank accounts; payment and procurement breaches; delays in lodgements; inadequate control over fixed assets and advances. The ministry was urged to strengthen the internal controls to safeguard their assets and ensure strict compliance with the government's guidelines.
INTERNAL CONTROL WEAKNESS
8.2.127 Weaknesses were observed in the controls governing blank cheques and fixed assets. We found that 9,000 cheques were not included on the cheque register and fixed assets totalling $853,474 were not recorded on the ministry's inventory records. Further, 58 items of electronic equipment were not presented for audit inspection, despite requests. We recommended that the ministry comply with the relevant government guidelines and present the equipment for inspection. Management has since taken corrective action to strengthen the control weaknesses identified.
8.2.128 A contract to install an electronic security system at a value of $6 million did not include a completion date and a defects liability clause. We recommended that the ministry ensure compliance with government procurement guidelines and related regulations.
8.2.129 The ministry failed to report to the Office of Contractor General (OCG) the award of 10 contracts totalling $29.7 million, in breach of the Contractor General Act. Two contracts with variations exceeding 50 per cent of the original contract sum were not reported to the National Contracts Commission. The ministry indicated that the relevant reports were subsequently submitted to the OCG.
8.2.130 Contrary to the Ministry of Finance's payment procedures, the ministry made payments totalling $653,944 from its deposit and Capital B accounts to meet its recurrent expenses. The ministry has since advised that these types of payments will not recur.
8.2.131 We found no evidence to indicate that the ministry was actively pursuing the clearing of outstanding balances for 1,250 accounts totalling $114.7 million as at December 2011. Included in the amount were credit balances totalling $3.3 million. Management's failure to monitor the advance accounts may result in the understatement of expenditure. Management was advised to institute an appropriate system to ensure the timely clearing of advances and regularise the credit balances. The ministry has indicated that more than 70 per cent of the advances have been cleared and that efforts are being made to ensure full clearance by March 31, 2013.
All the above should not be happening based on what the PSMP, having gone through several phases, said it had achieved. Further, in terms of good governance, the Cabinet secretary needs to revamp the role of the permanent secretary, as it would appear they are not fulfilling their roles.
Cabinet Secretary, Ambassador Douglas Saunders needs to give an update.
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