Quick Reflections- Seminar Beijing, China (May-July, 2017)

Below is an excerpt of my reflections on a training seminar in Beijing, China.

Represented sector- Land Development; Urban Planning and Research &Development (Informal Settlements and Indigenous knowledge)
QUESTIONS*
1. Overview, general comment and impression of this SEMINAR
The above named seminar was structured to fulfil the main purpose of assisting Jamaica in developing a sector around bamboo. The weekly schedules all consecutively flowed into each building a knowledge base and enhancing the capacity of the country representatives. All culminating into the practical application and demonstration afforded us by the three (3) well thought out weeks in YongAn, Fujian Province.
2. Professional knowledge you have learnt from this SEMINAR, including lectures and field trips. You can talk about this combined with your working experiences.
Having spent almost twenty (20) years in various capacities spanning Central and Local Government as well as in academia, I have learnt that LEARNING DOES NOT STOP. As a professionally trained Urban Development and Environmental Planning practitioner currently involved in projects and programme implementation, I understand the challenges involved in transferring knowledge into tangible actions that directly help the poor and vulnerable in the Jamaican society. Bamboo (and specifically the specie indigenous to Jamaica) can be used as a medium to alleviate some critical issues in Jamaica among which- reducing youth unemployment; providing low cost housing for the 30+% of the population who live in sub-standard housing and fuel the entrepreneurial efforts taking shape in the private domain.
3. What suggestions and comments for this SEMINAR? Are you satisfied with this SEMINAR?
Professionally, I satisfied with the organization of the lectures, cultural experiences and the opportunity to live in Fujian Province- one of the bamboo ‘capitals’ of China. My expectations for a seminar, as named above, were mostly met and many were EXCEEDINGLY met. I would suggest the following:
(a) Condensing of the first four weeks to three and perhaps a lengthening TO four (4) weeks in Fujian and,
(b) Reducing the final two weeks to one- this is all that is needed to wrap up the seminar.
With these two suggestions the duration would be two full months representing one week of savings.
4. Difference and shared things on Forestry and Bamboo in academics and industry. Specific examples are welcomed.
As a graduate of a College of Environmental Science and Forestry in the US, I have always noted the deliberate efforts to have comprehensive Forestry Management Plans (FMPs) in the US and paucity in Jamaica. Observing a similar approach in China especially as it pertains to bamboo plantations has made this deficiency very clear. Further the fact that project driven activities drive afforestation efforts in Jamaica is also a concern. Working on some – namely the CIDA- Ridge to Reef and the USAID- PARC projects highlights the vulnerability and unsustainability of the Jamaican forestry sector. Bamboo itself had been viewed as an invasive species so, much work is needed to remove this stigma and to begin to coalesce all the ground work thus far into a formal, national industry. Much work to be done.
5. Overall impression of Beijing and China
Personally, I know I have not begun to see even the ‘tip of the iceberg’ into the full essence of China-the country. However, what I have been able to see surpassed my dreams and ‘bucket listing’ of this country. Despite some inter-group issues- there was nothing that was allowed to diminish the beauty and appreciation of the experience. Being a city dweller and a professional Urban Planner I recognised the common issues of large urban areas and have even documented some of them. Overall, the best part of this first visit to China was the three weeks spent in YongAn, Fujian Province. The encapsulation of the rural-urban juxtaposition and the precision of the organization of the tours to offer demonstration and application of bamboo uses were absolutely impressive.
6. Possible cooperation idea between China and Jamaica in Forestry and other disciplines.
Many opportunities exist, a multi-sectoral, inter-agency approach is needed (LOCALLY) along with a multi-national partnership(INTERNATIONALLY) at certain stages of concrete milestones along the development cycle. Notwithstanding, Jamaica would need to either produce the resource in large volumes or directly manufacture value-added bamboo products (under viable financial conditions). Jamaica has a high national debt including huge import bills and the latter options would have to be done with several subsidies. Subjected to a tight fiscal space such subsidies may be hard fought. For the opportunities to be realized many activities have to occur concurrently and /or simultaneously. For example, a fast tracking of a policy (Central Government) inclusive of the full range of applicable standards (BSJ’s role).
*Questions provided by Facilitators – July 13, 2017

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WICKED PROBLEMS?…wicked cool responses.

World Environment Day, 2017…of nature, a changing climate, etc.

World Environment Day 2017 was observed June 5 and it was an especially poignant one especially with the decision of the US President to withdraw from the Paris Agreement…a decision which may or may not have deleterious consequences. The ultimate outcomes will be dependent on collective global and individual national actions. Some of the individual actions championed by UNEP were to use social media to share some of your favourite spots out in nature using #withnature and /or #worldenvironmentday as well as write poetry of the haiku format as well as to participate in collective actions such as running for a cause, demonstrations and marches. The UN Secretary General implores us in the WED speech to ‘cherish the planet that protects us.’  It is therefore important that we keep attention on the issues affecting our environment so that we may organize and holistically devise tangible and effective solutions. The changing climate is an ever present danger especially to small island developing states (SIDs). It is also of significance that the Ocean Conference is currently underway in UN New York HQ during June 5-9, 2017. The significance is not lost on this islander, being acutely aware that one of the deleterious impacts of a changing climate on SIDs is a rise in sea level which may result in the complete erosion of some small islands.

World Environment Day, 2017…The sky is burning!

When we are unable to pin point and directly, explicitly determine categories for a set of issues and situations that beset the society we have to formulate and conceptualize some form of categorization. WICKED PROBLEMS is one such that was coined and is used to describe problems for which no agreed upon solution is identifiable.  Environmental challenges (such as over-consumption, waste and climate change) are sometimes referred to as ‘wicked problems.’ These problems are complex and they have many causes and dependent factors influencing each other, making it difficult to target the linkages of the causal factors. In other words with wicked problems it is difficult to really know the exact problem. Subsequently, the attendant interventions will be, in the main, ever changing, meandering processes.

One of the wicked problems that impact me on both the personal and professional levels is the matter of air pollution. Air pollution is a major environmental problem. There is a comingling of factors which have contributed to this issue. Using my local context some factors are the indiscriminate burning of solid waste, the ever present combustion of waste at unsanitary landfills located in close proximity to many residential communities and the transfer of particulate matter in the air due to the burning of charcoal in and around the peri-urban areas. The above mentioned sources may not be conclusive and as such approaching the problem with a view to resolving the matter becomes a complex endeavour….What a wicked problem indeed!

Wicked, cool solutions!….Time to get innovative and think differently.

As a Sustainable Urban Development practitioner I see many opportunities and scope for mitigative strategies. As it pertains to solid waste management- within the context of small islands SWM must be addressed from the local (household) level with the separation of the waste at source. In addition, to bring about a behaviour change aimed at reducing the burning of SWM at the community level enforcement is needed for the prosecution of those who burn waste at the household level. There should be an accompanying reward system for those who inform on the community members who are involved in these activities. (The policing by community is one of the integral ways in which the protection of air quality at the local level can be achieved). However, as it pertains to the removal of trees and their use for the burning of charcoal, there is a viable alternative to this undertaking. Bamboo…

Considered ‘green gold’ this grass is such a versatile natural resource. This resource has many benefits among which are usefulness for environmental conservation and climate change mitigation. It is researched on so many levels and in fact what is revealed in the past days is that Jamaica has been integrally involved in the development of this sector in various ways. At the international level the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR) which is headquartered in Beijing, China celebrates its 20th year of existence in 2017 having being established in 1997. Jamaica currently chairs this organization (2015-2017). We are also members of one of its task force. At the local level the national focal point is vested in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries (MICAF). Several groupings of Jamaican government officials and technical personnel of various sectors have been and are also currently been trained in Beijing. The main objectives include, but are not limited to (a) to increase technical capacity; (b) reform knowledge and (c) institute methodological processes. The overall aim is to formalize a multi-stakeholder bamboo industry. It is to be noted that as it pertains to standards, Jamaica through the national standards entity- Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) has adapted the following standards pictured below.

Many uses of bamboo

This will be treated in some detail in a later post but in summary bamboo has many uses some of which include:

  • Edibles and pharmaceuticals,
  • Furniture making, and
  • Construction

Jamaica is exploring five (5) value chains:

  1. Bamboo charcoal
  2. Bamboo shoots
  3. Bamboo plywood
  4. Bamboo edible
  5. Bamboo Nutraceuticals

 

There is a push by the Government of Jamaica (GoJ) to develop a bamboo policy to help to improve (a) local economies; (b) alleviate poverty and (c) protect the environment. The long term vision is that there will be a strengthening of capacity to increase production in rural areas to bring to the urban areas and ultimately to contribute to the GDP as it is developed for the export market.

To achieve the development and in fact sustainable development of this sector will involve a cadre of sector personnel who will see the vision and who will commit to and fervently work to make it a reality. Wouldn’t that be wicked cool!

The world is really a village

Wowwwww…so many life changing and dare I say earth shattering things are happening and have unfolded over the past two weeks or so. I want to zoom in on one significant thing and that thing I believe may have some long term implication for those who engage in business and who trade in goods and services. I have been led to reflect on this matter because over the past week I have had the privilege of attending two well thought out events that were aimed at educating businesspersons on how to operate a viable and sustaining businesses. These were namely the hosted by the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce/Jamaica Coalition of Service Industries and the SEBI Summit ( A JN Foundation/USAID/ British Council et al affair).Both were extremely well planned and organized to optimize the resource persons quite effectively.

The ‘significant thing’ though was US President Donald Trump’s decision not to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which was a flagship trade deal with 12 countries from Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, Asia and Oceania.The TPP was to constitute the largest free trade area in the world, as measured by its members’ combined GDP, and it differed from most previous trade agreements in that it was both plurilateral and interregional, as well as for the breadth of subjects it covers. The TPP had a strong regulatory harmonization component in such areas as e-commerce, public procurement, regulatory coherence and various labour and environmental matters. The agreement was signed in 2016 but was not ratified, thus Trump’s executive order took care of that. It is to be noted that the previous Obama led administration  had argued that the deal would have provided an effective counterweight to China in the region.

The implication for the LAC region, which includes Jamaica can be inferred from the economic outlook provided by ECLAC which had outlined that;

the region’s participation in the global economy continues to lag: its share in global exports of goods and services remains stagnant and it has lost ground in trade of high-technology goods and modern services. Although the share of Latin America and the Caribbean in global foreign direct investment flows has risen, its low-technology specialization has deepened. The region’s participation in global value chains has increased this century, but remains below the global average and consists mainly of providing raw materials for third countries’ exports. Poor digital connectivity also hampers the region’s capacity to enter new dynamic sectors. Amid still-sluggish regional and global economic growth, the Latin American and Caribbean region’s exports and imports [fell] for the fourth year running in 2016. [However it was expected that] thereafter, a modest upturn is projected in regional trade in 2017-2020.

This is especially complex as according to an investement expert in the government of Jamaica  entrepreneurship and the medium to small microenterprise sector is poised at the forefront of Jamaica’s growth agenda. This is within the context that fiscal challenges continue to be the biggest concern for the government as Jamaica seeks to control its public finances. Evidenced by the growth rates of 0.9%, 1.1% and 2.2% in the first three quarters of 2016, respectively, posted for the Jamaican economy with growth projected at 1.1% in 2016 and 1.2% in 2017. The implication is of a gradual strengthening in growth, largely owing to the negotiation of a precautionary agreement between the government and the International Monetary Fund.

We have matured enough to understand that trade with our cousins up North is still important. The challenge will therefore be navigating with other members of the global marketplace to forge new or expanded trade partnerships. Similarly countries within the LAC configuration with flagging economies perhaps have to take cautionary measures to insulate manufacturing and increase employment opportunities within borders. Buying local is also a major cornerstone for growth.It will be interesting to see how small economies maneuver the itinerant trade and foreign policy landscape. We are afterall one global village and one big marketplace.