Sat | Dec 10, 2016

EDITORIAL - Putting down roots for the future

Published:Sunday | September 28, 2014 | 12:00 AM

There are two recent indications that a re-greening effort, however small, may be under way in Jamaica. First, we salute the education ministry for its recently launched Trees That Feed initiative that aims to provide economic and nutritional benefits to the school community. Here the focus is on planting breadfruit trees, and we make no pronouncement on the correctness of this selection. But we know that the choice of tree is an important factor in undertaking such a project.

And in the town of Annotto Bay, St Mary, a local non-profit organisation is spearheading a drive to plant 3,000 trees to try to reverse some of the environmental degradation suffered by that and neighbouring communities. The group is also exploring the marketability of the breadfruit.

Tree-planting is one of the most common initiatives undertaken by persons who want to help the environment. It helps to enhance a country's forest stock and provides an answer to climate change. Trees will make an impact way into the future, for they contribute to a healthy environment. Scientists have confirmed that where trees are present, there is better air and water quality.

While these projects are commendable, there is the urgent need for more families and groups to understand how we help our environment and our world by planting trees. And planting trees is not merely an activity to grab headlines; it's an investment in the future, and the young trees have to be nourished and cared for if they are to deliver the dividends we expect.

There was a time in Jamaica when a sapling was planted to commemorate a newborn, and as the child developed, it would pay special attention to his or her tree, especially if it were a fruit-bearing tree. Trees were also planted to mark important milestones. But this does not happen now, although thousands of trees are being destroyed by activities such as coal-burning, construction, and providing yam sticks for farmers. Trees are also lost to flooding, hurricanes and fires.

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Let's not overlook the thousands of coconut trees in Portland and St Mary that have been lost to disease, and we ask whether there is a plan to replant these fields so that people can resume their livelihood from this activity.

Schoolyard gardens were prevalent in the Jamaica of old. For whatever reasons, school gardens and agricultural plots have become extinct from many schools. Hopefully, the Trees That Feed initiative will rekindle the idea of re-greening our country and inspire schools to start a garden. The process provides a great connection between students and the growing process. Fruit trees provide food both for humans and animals, and the benefit of reaping fresh, locally grown fruit cannot be overlooked.

Apart from the aesthetic value of trees, there are several health and environmental benefits. Trees should be celebrated for being major assets to the community. For example: Trees provide shade from the sun in the hot summer months, mitigate storm-water damage, reduce erosion, filter harmful pollutants to improve air quality, and mitigate the effects of climate change.

The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change needs to become more active in making the connection for the population between the environment and trees and explaining why trees should be preserved and nurtured.

Bearing in mind that so many developments are taking place on mountain slopes and in watershed areas, the ministry should itself be at the forefront of a massive annual tree-planting effort.

Since trees have so many economic, social and environmental benefits, we urge the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change to create an incentive scheme to get as many people as possible involved in a massive nationwide tree-planting campaign.

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