Mon | May 20, 2019

Editorial | Where Bernard Lodge and Heroes Park converge

Published:Wednesday | April 17, 2019 | 12:18 AM

It is not often that this newspaper is in concert with the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS), which hasn’t sufficiently, or with clarity, articulated a strategic vision for a modern farming sector. They tend to be animated by small-bore issues.

However, last week’s statement by the JAS president, Lenworth Fulton, about the absence, by the Government, of a credible land-use policy, and the accelerating expropriation of the island’s most arable lands for real estate development, is on the button. It deserves support.

It is a pity that Audley Shaw, the minister for commerce and agriculture, usually so loquacious on almost any subject, has apparently lost his voice on this issue, despite his declared concern, when he first got the job, for the amount of idle lands in Jamaica. He wanted to improve food security, lower the country’s near US$800 million food-import bill, and create jobs in agriculture and agro-processing sectors.

Mr Fulton’s focus at the launch of Farmers’ Month was what is happening on the plains of St Catherine, home of some of the country’s most fertile lands and irrigation systems. Much of the land used to be under sugar cane, but, as that industry faltered, real estate developments moved in.

Active plan

Matters are about to get worse. There is an active plan for a logistic facility in the Caymanas region. A stalled housing development on several hundred acres at Bernard Lodge is poised to be restarted by Chinese interests.

Further, the Holness administration is pushing ahead with its planned seizure of 4,600 acres of these arable lands for a new city. Some of the lands have already been sold, or are in the process of being sold to private developers. Farmers who leased portions are being chucked off and shunted to other sections.

As Mr Fulton pointed out, 63 per cent of Jamaica is not suitable for agriculture. Flip the numbers and it means that 37 per cent of the land is sufficiently arable and meets the other characteristics necessary to sustain agriculture. But according to Mr Fulton, only about 19.5 per cent of the arable land is now available for farming, with most of the reduction taking place in the last 50 years.

Rightly, he wants a land-use policy and a halt to the subsuming of arable lands into housing and urban infrastructure. “We recommend that pending and future housing developments and urban expansion make use of marginal lands,” Mr Fulton said. We say bravo!

Concerns not disconnected

The concerns raised by Mr Fulton are not disconnected from the country’s shelter crisis and the debate over urban renewal, including the Holness Administration’s intention to build a government campus around the 50-acre National Heroes Park, and a new parliament building inside it.

In the past, Jamaica has mostly attempted to address the problem of housing with new developments away from urban centres, often on arable lands.

There has been little attempt at a holistic and sustained urban renewal. When it happens, it is with insufficient attention to the needs of existing residents, which we fear will be the likely outcome with the proposed Heroes Park project.

In today’s world, parliaments, as gathering places for large number of representatives of the State and Government, demand a significant amount of security.

They do not easily lend themselves to being places of leisure and recreation.

In that regard, not only will the communities surrounding National Heroes Park, with the advent of the Parliament there, have limited recreational space, but likely limited, or less free, access to the acreage that remains.

As we said previously, the Bantustan idea of 23 micro parks in the communities won’t compensate for the loss of Heroes Park.