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Land of wood and water?

Published:Saturday | March 5, 2011 | 12:00 AM

KNOWN as the 'Land of Wood and Water', Jamaica's claim to that title is now seriously in doubt, given that only about a third of the island is still forested. The Forest Conservation Fund (FCF) is one of the lead non-governmental organisations (NGO) dedicated to correcting this imbalance and educating the public to the importance of forests on our daily lives.

While poor farming practices, mining and housing have contributed to a serious decline in local forests, deforestation in Jamaica's upper watershed areas is leading to reduced water quality and an increase in soil erosion. Jamaica is home to more that 3,500 plant species, more than 900 of which are only found here. We also have more than 30 species of birds that are found nowhere else in the world.

Forests are not only beautiful habitats for our unique plants and animals, they provide food, water, medicines, shelter and other benefits for Jamaicans. The FCF is working to ensure that the remaining forest is preserved and some denuded areas are reclaimed. Established in 2004 to administer a debt-for-nature swap agreement between the United States of America and Jamaican governments, it will facilitate the payment of US$15.9 million of debt owed by the Government of Jamaica into the FCF over 19 years.

This money is earmarked for grant funding to community organisations by the fund, which since 2007 has each year invited proposals for projects that have as their primary focus forest conservation.

Communities to play role

"Eligible organisations would then respond by sending in concept notes and we look to see if they fit our bill and recommend those concepts to be developed into full-size projects," programme coordinator Lehome Johnson told The Gleaner.

Once the group identifies the vulnerable area to be rehabilitated, FCF officers do a site visit, sometimes in collaboration with officers from the Forestry Department, which is an arm of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and a separate entity from the fund, even though they have common goals.

"Forestry works on behalf of the Jamaican people protecting Jamaica's forest, so a lot of the technical expertise comes from the Forestry department. We send a lot of the groups that apply to us to the Forestry Department for technical expertise," Johnson explained. "A lot of seedlings they get are purchased from Forestry. We will invite their personnel and seek their input and advise on projects; we work very close but are separate entities," Johnson added.

- C.S.