Editor’s note: This personal account (in regular font) took place in December 2013.
I had gotten over much of the cold. It’s the day I go back home to spend Christmas with my family. Ugh…this flight is gonna be agony, I thought. I only had a slight nasal congestion and a bit of a cough. But I’ll be okay, right? RIGHT?!
Here’s the thing: I survived the flight (kinda felt bad for the guy sitting next to me). Lord knows the dry, recycled airplane air did not help the cough. On our way home, somewhere along Highway 2000 we suddenly hit upon a cloud of smoke. Could barely see a few feet in front of us. And in addition to that, I. COULD. NOT. BREATHE.
In Jamaica, another major source of environmental smoke is open burning of sugarcane fields and other agricultural fields due to slash/burn farming practices, burning garbage and spontaneous combustion of solid waste at dumpsites… According to the National Environment Planning Agency, in addition to open burning, poor air quality in Jamaica is due to emissions of pollutants from industries, motor vehicles resulting from population growth, a high level of energy use, a growing number of motor vehicles and poor domestic industrial practices. The National Environment Planning Agency 2010 report identifies sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter as major pollutants causing major damage to the environment and human health in Jamaica. Although the role of such pollutants in the initiation of asthma has not been ascertained, ambient air pollution is associated with exacerbations of existing asthma and deterioration in lung function. These environmental factors are contributors to the high prevalence of asthma and other respiratory symptoms in susceptible population.
“You want to drink some of the Ferrol?”
Ferrol? FERROL???!!! Ugh!!!
“It’s okay, I took a couple Buckley’s tablets this morning. Maybe they’ll kick in soon.” I hoped. I really didn’t want to have to submit to my mother’s suggestion about the Ferrol. Sigh. Jesus be a relief!
[Hours later] “Mommy, where’s the Ferrol?”
The National Environment and Planning Agency has issued an ultimatum to the sugar industry to stop burning sugar cane by 2014, but sugar interests say if they accede it will wind up costing them more to farm cane.
In a letter dated March 14, 2012 to the Sugar Industry Authority, head of NEPA, Peter Knight told the sector it had two years to end the traditional practice of burning cane during reaping.
Knight emphasised that the directive was part of a broader campaign against open burning and that similar correspondence was sent to stakeholders in other industries.
Cold compress (check). Vicks vaporub (check). Gargle with warm salt water (check). Ferrol (gag…uh um…check). Kleenex (check).
It had gotten worse.
Chairman of the All Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association Allan Rickards said the two-year timeline is unrealistic.
“That is out of the question. That can’t work,” Rickards said.
Rickards said it suits farmers to burn cane in some areas as reaping “green” canes will leave a trash cover which requires machines to mulch into the soil. He said the equipment is expensive to procure and that “worse” the industry is required to pay GCT on them.
Also, if the mulch is not turned over properly when fertiliser is applied it will attach to the trash, rather than mixing with the soil, he said.
Both Rickards and Keith Scott, the planning and information manager at the Sugar Industry Authority, said that the availability of cane cutters, the terrain and the cost of mechanical reapers are major problems to consider before the industry can move in the direction of reaping “green” canes.
“The breed of people called cane farmers are dying out, ageing and nobody wants to go into the cane cutting business, so we have to consider mechanical harvesters,” Scott said.
“People need work but they are not willing to do cane cutting work. Right now, we have a core of people that we sometimes have to move from one parish to the other.”
NEPA has tried before to end cane burning, citing its nuisance to residents in communities near sugar estates and cane fields.
In 2009, when the agency last tried to make progress on the issue, the alternative of ‘green’ cane harvesting was proposed and discussed, Knight told the Financial Gleaner.
He said since then the industry was placed on notice and his agency was not prepared to allow indefinite use of the burning option.
It’s a new day!!! Still congested but I survived that night. Went outside and smelled smoke. Maybe it’s my imagination, I thought. “A man ovah suh always burn coal ennuh…”, I heard my father say.
Dear God, not again.
Because energy infrastructure in rural areas of the poorer countries in the hotspot is still poorly developed, communities in these areas rely heavily on fuelwood and charcoal from neighboring forested areas, including mangroves. In Haiti, fuelwood provides the main source of household energy charcoal and fuelwood currently provide 75 percent of Haiti’s energy consumption (Smucker et al. 2007), and 80 percent of wood extracted in Jamaica is ultimately consumed as fuelwood (FAO 2001). A range of approaches have been tried to address this problem. Cuba, for instance, has long suffered from an intermittent energy crisis, but daily 16-hour electricity cuts in 2004 encouraged the government to pursue a policy of energy conservation drives, a review of the electricity grid and increased use of solar and wind power, which is likely to have had a knock-on effect of reducing the demand for fuelwood from native forests.
It is recognized that addressing the lack of energy sources for poorer rural communities can help reduce fuelwood collection and take pressure off the remaining forests and its threatened biodiversity. In the Dominican Republic, for instance, a government policy of subsidizing propane gas and cooking stoves was set in place in the mid-1980s, which helped reduce the consumption of wood for charcoal used for cooking by most of the population, from 1,596,000 sacks in 1982 to 26,465 sacks in 2000 (Gomez 2001). More recently, there have been efforts to promote energy efficient wood-burning stoves in the Dominican Republic.
Another trip into Kingston. More smoke along Highway 2000. All that time I kept thinking, “How do the nearby residents put up with this?”
Scott acknowledges that the burning can be a nuisance to the residents but rationalised that cane is not burned every day. At most, it is done once per month in some areas during the reaping season, he said.
Cane reaping season usually lasts from late December to June. This year, farmers and estates are trying to finalise reaping in May to stay ahead of the rains.
Scott said some of complaints about smoke nuisance are beneficiaries of land grant from the SIA in areas such as Bernard Lodge and Innswood.
He said the stakeholders in the industry are to meet to discuss the letter and then forward individual reports to the SIA, which the regulator will collate into an industry position to respond to NEPA.
The SIA official said he would not comment on the two-year ultimatum.
“It may be that going green is inevitable, but it is going to take some time,” Scott said.
Throat is on fire. I manage to say a few words in between coughing spells. Ferrol for breakfast. Buckleys syrup (the strong stuff!) for dinner.
Here’s to a lovely vacation.
– @MizDurie, @ThinkJamaica