JAMAICA: KINGSTON, Jamaica — More than 100 farmers in the Blue Mountain range and neighbouring communities have been trained in preventive measures and early management of forest fires.
This was done through a collaborative training executed under its Integrated Management of the Yallahs and Hope River Watershed Management Areas Project, the National Environment and Planning Agency’s (NEPA) informed in a release today.
NEPA said the training was conducted with the support of the Forestry Department, the Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB) and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA).
“In 2015, the agriculture sector in East-rural St Andrew and Western St Thomas were severely shaken after uncontrolled forest fires gutted communities like Mavis Bank, Content Gap, Windsor Forest, Lime Tree, Craige Hill and Westphalia. The fires wiped out large acres of coffee, banana, pineapple and vegetables and left wide scale destruction to livestock, property and forests. The Jamaica Agricultural Society estimated losses at close to half a billion Jamaican dollars,” stated the environment agency.
Through a series of peer group-based learning sessions called ‘farmer field schools’, 138 farmers in rural communities are now better equipped to prevent and manage the flames, NEPA said.
Nelsa English-Johnson, Yallahs-Hope Watershed Project Manager noted that while it will be difficult to persuade farmers to stop “slash and burn” as a method to prepare farmlands for planting, she is hopeful that as many have been open to learning the climate-smart alternatives.
“Though our farmers are aware of the dangers of burning, it is still a hard habit to break, but with many still reeling from the effects of the 2015 blaze, we hope it will be the catalyst that brings a change in their behaviour, to use the material cleared for composting and mulching, as viable alternatives to burning”, she stated.
The trainings, which ended at the close of September, were very rewarding and timely and reinforce the 2017 theme of Fire and Safety Awareness Week, which is October 22 to 27, “Empowering our People for a Fire Safe Jamaica”.
Emelio Ebanks, Public Relations Officer at the Jamaica Fire Brigade (JFB), in commenting on the trainings, explained that farmers did practical exercises in creating fire lines and other techniques, to prevent the spread and minimize property destruction and personal safety measures to prevent loss of lives.
“The forest fire prevention and management trainings were instrumental in building farmers ability to act as first responders – creating fire safety watch groups and curtailing fires until the Fire Brigade and the Jamaica Defense Force can be on location. It will take years for many to fully recover from the 2015 fires, but with this training, they are now better equipped to prevent and respond to future flames,” Ebanks said.