Jamaica Conserves Forests With Debt-for-Nature Pacts

WASHINGTON, DC, October 12, 2004 (ENS) - The governments of Jamaica and the United States, along with The Nature Conservancy, have concluded agreements to reduce Jamaica's debt to the United States by nearly $16 million, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

In return for $16 million debt reduction, the Jamaican government has committed itself to spend an equivalent sum over the next 20 years to fund projects to conserve and restore tropical forest resources in Jamaica.

The agreements were signed Friday by U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Sue Cobb, Jamaican Minister of Agriculture Roger Clarke, and The Nature Conservancy Country Director Terence Williams.

The agreements were made possible through a grant of $6.5 million from the U.S. government and a contribution of $1.3 million from The Nature Conservancy.

Jamaica has unique plants and animals with a high percentage of native species found nowhere else in the world, including 28 percent of its flowering plants and 25 breeding bird species.


Euphorbia punicea, a rare shrub found in the area proposed for Dolphin Head National Park. This area of high botanical diversity, pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and recreational value is located in northern Jamaica 30 miles from Negril and 30 miles from Montego Bay. (Photo courtesy Jamaica Forestry Department)
A growing number of plant and animal species are identified as vulnerable to extinction, critically imperiled or rare.

The aim of this debt-for-nature swap is to help Jamaica in its fight to safeguard the valuable forests and rich biodiversity in several areas. This includes areas such as the Blue and John Crow Mountain Forest Reserve/National Park, home of the island's tallest peak, the endangered Giant Swallowtail Butterfly and a number of endemic orchids.

It also includes the Portland Bight Protected Area, the only place on the island where the Jamaican iguana, once thought to be extinct, is found in the wild.

The Tropical Forest Conservation Act of 1998 was first funded in 2000 to provide eligible developing countries opportunities to reduce concessional debts owed the United States while generating funds to conserve their forests.


Jamaican iguana, once thought extinct, is listed under the Jamaican Wildlife Protection Act. (Photo courtesy NEPA)
Jamaica is one of eight countries to benefit from the act so far. Other countries are Bangladesh, Belize, Colombia, El Salvador, Panama, the Philippines, and Peru. Together, these agreements will generate over $95 million to protect tropical forests over the next 10-25 years.

Jamaica is also moving to reforest its lands so that the country can sell greenhouse gas emissions credits to industrialized countries participating in the mechanisms of the Kyoto climate protocol.

The Forest Conservancy, a newly formed Jamaican non-governmental agency, is initiating a private forest plantation program that will allow Jamaicans to participate in carbon trading.

The Nature Conservancy and The Environmental Foundation of Jamaica are among the nongovernmental organizations which have committed their support.

Benefits of the forest plantation program, says the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), include job creation, the production of wood and wood products for local and export markets and increased sustainability of Jamaicaís natural environment.

The reforestation program is based on the objectives of the 2001 National Forest Management and Conservation Plan approved by Parliament. The Ministry of Agriculture, the Forestry Department and other government entities, such as the National Integrated Watershed Management Council, will guide the program.

The Forestry Department has identified some 67,000 hectares of marginal, private lands suitable for reforestation and watershed protection activities.

NEPA's Land Use Branch has a list of idle agricultural properties, including some owned by the government, totaling 60,000 hectares that it says could be reforested.

The Forest Conservancy estimates that other landowners have in excess of 50,000 hectares of under-utilized lands.

The plan is to use these arable lands for commercial production of elite timbers like teak, the most highly prized wood in the world.

In addition, lands adjacent to the islandís main roads and Highway 2000 need to be landscaped and planted with trees to protect the embankments from erosion, to prevent encroachment by squatters and to enhance the rural landscape.