Sat | Sep 25, 2021

Rethink Ja’s development model in harmony with nature

Published:Tuesday | June 8, 2021 | 12:09 AM
Richard Kelly
Richard Kelly

We are supposed to be using the Earth’s natural resources in such a way that they are regenerative for use by future generations. Instead, we have taken the Earth to a dangerous tipping point of possibly no return if we do not significantly change our ways. It is this alarming rate of destruction that has resulted in United Nations (UN) Secretary General Antonio Guterres declaring “2021 as the year to reconcile humanity with nature”.

The exponential increase in the pressures on the Earth’s resources have also motivated the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the global development network of the UN, to produce a different kind of Human Development Report in 2020, The Next Frontier: Human Development and the Anthropocene, which takes into account the planetary pressures on human development and offers cogent alternatives.

While all countries are being affected by the wanton degradation of the natural environment, small island developing states (SIDS) are disproportionately affected. One main reason is their reliance on their natural resources for socio-economic survival. Jamaica is heavily reliant on its natural resources as the critical foundation for tourism, mining, agriculture, and fishing and many other sectors. The island boasts a rich endowment of biodiversity, partly due to its physical features. The country also has relatively high endemism of plants and animal species, ranking 18th in the world in terms of the number of endemic birds, and over 900 endemic plant species.


However, we are not taking adequate care of our island. Jamaica still grapples with environmental degradation. For example, in 2016, Jamaica ranked 54th out of 180 countries on the University of Yale’s global Environmental Performance Index (EPI), and by 2020, the country slipped 12 places to 66. The country is challenged by degradation of its marine and terrestrial ecosystems, unsustainable use of natural resources, unsustainable agriculture practices, pollution, and inadequate waste management.

As reported by the World Bank, Jamaica has made important strides in macro-economic stability and debt reduction over the last seven years, and the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service (MOFPS) reported that public debt fell to 96 per cent of GDP in fiscal year 2018-19. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected the country, resulting in an overall economic contraction of 10 per cent in calendar year 2020, as stated by the Planning Institute of Jamaica, notably driven by a 70 per cent contraction in the tourist industry. The minister of finance has declared that “the economic impact of the pandemic in Jamaica has led to an economic decline without parallel in Jamaica’s history”.

COVID-19 has severely affected the country, but it also presents a turning point for new ways of doing things, underpinned by a green recovery. With the looming socio-economic challenges, the Government will have to innovatively craft policies to build forward better and accelerate recovery. With enhanced capacity, Jamaica would be well-positioned to implement policy alternatives to maximisce the blue and green economies with innovative nature-based and green solutions and ensure that everyone benefits and participates fully from development gains. While there are gaps, Jamaica has relatively robust policy, legislative, and institutional frameworks for management of the environment reflected in the country’s aim for sustainable management and use of natural resources outlined under in the Vision 2030 Jamaica: National Development Plan’s Goal 4: Jamaica has a healthy natural environment.


Jamaica should harness its natural capital to advance socio-economic development in a sustainable way. It is known that every U$1 invested in conservation returns about U$4 in economic value over time from natural resource goods and services. The point is that the country should realise benefits from sustainably utilising its natural resource without overexploitation. This requires strengthening the country’s capacity to implement nature-based solutions and facilitate ecosystems-based sustainable livelihoods. The pandemic has shown us that we have to rethink and enhance our present tourism model. The new tourism model should be more sustainable and inclusive and embrace a shift from mass market to unique market niches characterised by smart, customised travel, higher expenditure rates by tourists, higher valued niche products and reduced impact on the environment.

In capitalising on market trends, the Government could move swiftly to expand cultural tourism, community-based tourism, eco-tourism, business and sports tourism, health and wellness tourism, and remote-working opportunities for long-stay working tourists. The potential of health and wellness tourism remains untapped. The global health and wellness market reached US$3.3 billion in 2020 according to Globenewswire, and remote working, influenced by COVID-19, is a growing market segment.

Also, with a robust policy, regulatory and institutional framework for greater access, and benefit sharing of its genetic resources, Jamaica could stimulate and facilitate small industries such as the nutraceutical and medicinal industries. The global nutraceutical market was estimated at US$230.9 billion in 2018 according to BCC Research.


Agriculture could be diversified and expanded using green solutions. Buttressed by sustainable practices and enhanced value chains, the sector offers much for Jamaica. More sustainable practices such as controlled aquaculture, mariculture, permaculture, horticulture, hydroponics, and aquaponics should be encouraged. Both hydroponics and aquaponics enable the soil-less growth of plants, thus reducing the impact on the environment. Aquaponics combines growing plants hydroponically and raising fish. The global hydroponics market was estimated at US$9.5 billion in 2020 by Markets and Markets. Sustainable agriculture requires managing systems and landscapes. Hence, landscape management and land use planning are essential.

Along Jamaica’s coastal areas, additional opportunities abound and should be viewed as pivotal to socio-economic development. More than 50 per cent of economic assets and about 70 per cent of the population are concentrated in these areas, which are highly vulnerable to natural hazards. Healthy coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrass beds, and coral reefs are integral to protection of the island’s physical and economic assets. In addition, the coastal zone offers opportunities for mariculture, diversification in fisheries, and expansion in other blue economy sectors such as marine biotechnology.

Our natural capital offers a solid avenue to economic prosperity and social well-being. However, these benefits can only be realised if we integrate biodiversity management and sustainable use of natural resources into all that we do from the policy level to ground level, from the policymakers to the users of the resources. This is not only the responsibility of Government, but is a duty that should be shared by all Jamaicans. The time is now; the opportunities abound. Environmental management is a priority of the Government. Will the country move forward with a new paradigm, or will it be business as usual?

Richard Kelly is programmes specialist for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Multi-Country Office in Jamaica. Send feedback to or on Twitter at @Richard39829422.