December 13, 2019

Jamaica Pushes Climate Smart Policies to Secure the Future of its Food Supply –

Una May Gordon, Principal Director, Climate Change Division, in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Jamaica. (Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS)

By Busani Bafana

correspondent Busani Bafana interviews UNA MAY GORDON, Principal Director,
Climate Change Division, in Jamaica’s Ministry of Economic Growth and Job

Zimbabwe, Wednesday February 20, 2019 (IPS) 
– The island state of Jamaica is vulnerable to
climate change which has in turn threatened both its economy and food
production. But the Caribbean nation is taking the threat seriously and it has
constructed a robust policy framework to support national climate action,
particularly when it comes to promoting climate-smart agriculture (CSA).

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“Climate change is a threat to Jamaica,” Una
May Gordon, Principal Director, Climate Change Division, in the Ministry of
Economic Growth and Job Creation, told IPS. “We have pulled all the stops to
deal with it in a smart way. Developing and implementing effective policies has
been our weapon to fight climate change especially to protecting agriculture, a
key economic sector.”

According to the Food and Agriculture
 of the United Nations (FAO), CSA pursues the
triple objectives of sustainably increasing productivity and incomes, adapting
to climate change, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions where
possible. Though this does not imply that every practice applied in every
location should produce ‘triple wins’. 

Over the last 30 years Jamaica has
experienced increased floods, landslides, shoreline erosion, tropical storms,
hurricanes, sea level rise and prolonged drought.

The Climate Change Division was created in
2013 in a deliberate attempt to place specific emphasis on the climate agenda.
Jamaica recognised that climate change was affecting the country’s different
sectors and instituted measures such as better management of water resources,
adopting sustainable farming practices and planting crops that can withstand
erratic weather conditions.

Adopting climate smart agriculture approaches
has informed the country’s development agenda, said Gordon.

As the focal point for climate change in
Jamaica, the Climate Change Division has facilitated the streamlining of
climate change throughout the government structures. Gordon explains how Jamaica, which signed and
ratified the 2015 Paris Agreement, has implemented resilience-building measures
in the agriculture sector as part of climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Excerpts of the interview follow:

Inter Press Service (IPS): How has climate
change affected Jamaica specifically with regards to agriculture?

Una May Gordon (UG): Agriculture is one of the
major sectors and major drivers of the Jamaican economy and it is probably the
largest employer of labour within the economy. Agriculture is grounded on the
rural economy and therefore affects the lives of small farmers and farm families.
Drought, the [low] rainfall, the disparity in the cycles, increasing pests and
disease and all these are climate related and we have seen the impacts on the
production and the livelihood of the farmers.

On the other hand, there is the sea level rise;
the large part of the Jamaican coastline is being impacted. Most of our
critical infrastructure is within 5 kilometres of the coast and therefore many
coastal communities [are also based along the coast]. We are seeing the impacts
on the coastal communities and with the warming waters, we have seen less fish

IPS: How do these policies work?

UG: The climate change policy has actions and
activities to implement to make agriculture resilient and sustainable by
adopting mitigation measures such as water management, better cropping to
reduce agriculture’s environment impacts.

The agriculture ministry has a climate change
focal point. This focal point belongs to a network of focal points. One of the
structures that were created out of the policy framework is the climate change
focal point network, which integrates and coordinates climate actions in the
country. We recognise that a number of rural women are impacted by climate
change. Therefore, the gender disparity between male and female is a gap we are
working to close as we promote CSA initiatives.

IPS: How is CSA working?

UG: CSA, for us, is agriculture that is
sustainable, that speaks to farmers and adapts to climate change. From a
mitigation point of view, we talk about efficiency and reduction of waste and
support for forest development.

Many farmers are on the borderline with the
forests. In Jamaica, the preservation of the forest is about the sustainability
of the production system and the adaptation and mitigation efforts of the

IPS: How do we get farmers to change their
behaviour and recognise this?

UG: If farmers are not aware of the
weather-related impacts, then they will not be able to take action. And so the
Met Service is a full partner in this project and we are using ICTs to provide
farmers with real time weather data through their mobile phones. 

If a farmer knows that today or next week
there will have more rain, then they will plan better as opposed not knowing
what the weather will be like. If a farmer knows he will have no soil moisture
then he probably takes steps to mulch. Farmers need to have a mind-set change
and become more proactive and prepare more to meet the challenges and we are
arming them with information and skills to adapt.

IPS: How effective has this been?

UG: The project is in its early days but we
have seen some results. We have farmers working together. By bringing them
together, we are getting a change in minds sets because individually each
farmer is doing their part and collectively they do better over time. Jamaica
is divided into 14 parishes and this project is in three parishes. Eventually
if we can scale up to another three parishes this year, we will be able to
cover all.

IPS: What have you learnt from this that can be

UG: We underestimate the power of ICTs as a
solution to addressing climate change. Cell phones are more powerful
instruments than we take them to be. They can be a tool of trade for the
farmers not only to make calls and so forth, but also to become part of the
solutions to advance adaptation efforts because farmers can access value added
information timely. Farmers are amenable to change and want to adapt. We are
targeting 5,000 farmers across the three parishes. This project, though small
in the scheme of things, will have a large impact.

IPS: As a government institution, what have you done
to get the buy in of the private sector?

UG: Jamaica is very fortunate because the
private sector is involved with us as partner in climate action … Some are
retooling their own operations and there are huge investments in climate change
now in Jamaica. This makes it easy for the government to scale up their
ambition. Recently our Prime Minister announced that we would move from a
target we had set on our own NDC of 30 per cent renewables by 2025 – 2030 to 50
per cent.

We also have invested significantly in clean
energy. We have a solar farm and wind farms going up and these are private
actions. From an agriculture point of view, the private sector is investing in
sustainable agriculture practices where they are using solar energy.

The dialogue with the private sector and the government is at an advanced stage. We are supporting the rest of the Caribbean Region in conducting a scoping study to look at barriers to private sector engagement in climate action.

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