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!

Fighting Inequality(ies)…

The week of January 14-20, 2017 is being utilized as a week of action to FIGHT INEQUALITY. Initiated by the  Fight Inequality Alliance, its aimed at drawing attention and focus on inequality within the global economic realm and especially highlighting the far reaching effect of poverty and general impoverishment. This is purposely to coincide with the World Economic Forum occurring within the same period in Davos, Switzerland.

fight-inequalityThe reason for this global call to action is expressed below, as per the website – http://www.fightinequality.org:

Inequality has reached extreme and dangerous levels, and has put too much power into the hands of millionaires and powerful corporations. What’s worse, a growing number of hate-filled leaders are gaining power by pretending to stand up for the poorest. But they are not champions for ordinary people and have no intention of ending corporate greed, tax dodging, privatisation of services, and exploitation of workers, women and minorities. In fact, they are stirring division and discrimination that threatens to take us back to the horrors of the past.We know it’s possible to have a society where everyone matters, and nobody is rich or powerful enough to be immune from the rules. But powerful elites and corporations won’t change a system that works for them without pressure.

Evidence to this is given for example by OXFAMAmerica which highlights that just 8 men have as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population. Source:www.oxfamamerica.org/just8.

 

Related image

Image source: Sustainable Human

Consequently this leads to disparities in income (micro) and the disproportionate economies of scale (macro) which manifest into all types of inequalities and inequalities at all levels, namely social and spatial inequalities. The capitalist mindset stemming from modern day commerce and industry have through the centuries, post -Industrial Revolution era, contributed to the accumulation and amassing of familial wealth. The wealth have been so concentrated within these hands that it is a vain attempt at extricating same except through philanthropy and endowments.

Image result for inequality definition Image result for inequality definition

The promise of wealth accumulation by those outside of these circles have had flickering success through the signing of social entrepreneurial spirits. New inventions and the technological age have opened new frontiers for innovation and thus creating new opportunities for virtual richest.

North-South debate (examining inequality on a geographic scale)

To dial back to an earlier point in the discussion though, the laissez-faire /captalist model is referenced as having contributed to the highly extractive approaches that have left many countries in the developing world reeling with the after-effects. The growth and development of many countries in the ‘North’ at the expense of countries in the ‘South’ is debated in many lecture theatres, college hallways and in social media. The main take home is that the wealth in the hands of the few have been also at the expense of so many  with far-reaching geographic impact.

So in the inequality dialogue one must examine what the global recessions – in quick succession, harsh economic climates and banking crises and such have unearthed- serious and indepth analyses at the individual all the way through household and country levels.  From a theoretical perspective it is not surprising that many of the economic paradigms of the last decades have been reviewed and are now being examined. Many of the problems of this world involving inequality for example cannot be resolved by economic means. This is as many researchers and policy analysts have determined that the economic approach have contributed to and have been the cause of much inequality. As we navigate a paradigm shift social engineers only seek to determine whether or not there are key salvageable and meritorious elements of economic models that can be utilized to assist with a re-engineering of our thinking. Inequality after all is a quantitative measure, in so much as it is able to be, used to explain the qualitative construct of the problem.

 

 

 

Marginalization and its consequences…

fight-inequality

I have been grappling with the thought that sometimes- well meaning efforts can have inadvertently deleterious effects despite being impactful. This often happens when I am immersed in some gender related activity. I think on the ways in which many cultures still do not allow the girl child to achieve her fullest human potential. Some girls are primed only as brides and thus chattels of their male counterparts whether as a parent or later as a spouse. It is therefore important work to empower females who are so socialized or who have escaped these oppressive regimes they had been forceably subjected to.

However, observations made in the field, in other societies including mine, is that young males have, or had at some point previous, become themselves marginalized. In Jamaica girls are out performing their male counterparts in most of the indicators of human development. See below for the educational attainment indicator example in Jamaica.

Although the number of boys and girls in Jamaica is roughly equal, according to some recent statistics, 48,992 boys and 81,111 girls sat CSEC subjects, and the girls outperformed the boys in all arts subjects and all science subjects, except mathematics. More than twice the number of females (67 per cent) are enrolled in the University of the West Indies (UWI) than males (33 per cent), and 59 per cent of those enrolled in post-secondary non-tertiary education are women.

Its long been accepted that boys develop differently than girls. Strong family support is needed to nurture  the children  in such a re-socialization process so as to take these into consideration. Girls have a proclivity to learn at faster rates than most boys. The education system must, even through resource constraints, have specialized approaches to capture and retain boys as well as girls. Concurrently, there must be a demystified definition of the gender roles. Our boys AND girls must be equally socialized to realize their fullest potential  within the context of modern societies. Traditional roles have to be retooled such that there are no restrictions contained in either.

Correlation between inequality and crime

Thus, it is ironic that the men are expected to be primary bread winners and providers in their traditional roles as ‘heads of households,’ within the current system that is failing them. In previous articles I have written about the high rate of male drop outs and the large percentage of unattached youths primarily concentrated by the males in the population. With the increasingly high national crime rate and the spate of murders in St. James, data can be found to provide evidence to the underlying cause and effect, not excluding the educational attainment. It is an imperative that we do not attempt to only mitigate against the attendant results but also strive to bring resolution to the innate nature of the problem.

We watch the news and documentaries and we wonder how can people be so murderous. We also wonder how people can be so callous as to scam the elderly out of their pension and life’s savings. It is time for us to get into the belly of the beast and slay the dragon from within. We need to start to understand, not empathize, but to dissect the mindset of deviants. As stated in a TEDWomen talk delivered by Jacqueline Novagratz in 2010 we should seek to understand how someone, ‘…[can] look at other beings, human beings, as lesser than [them]selves and in the extreme, to do terrible things.’ In an episode of the series Black Market on the Vice network, some young males (including boys as young as 12) who were involved in carjacking activities in Trenton, New Jersey, stated, ” its ‘us or them,’ when we are hungry.” This echoes the sentiments by many males who hang on the corner in many inner cities or impoverished neighborhoods here- as well some hardened criminals- and those relegated to a life of crime and illicit activities.

To help to make the connection and to solidify the call for attention to neutralizing gender gaps at the socio-economic levels, Novagratz makes the following point even as she was reflecting on a female parliamentarian who was imprisoned for war crimes.

And there is no group more vulnerable to those kinds of manipulations [see quotation above] than young men. I’ve heard it said that the most dangerous animal on the planet is the adolescent male. And so in a gathering where we’re focused on women, while it is so critical that we invest in our girls and we even the playing field and we find ways to honor them, we have to remember that the girls and the women are most isolated and violated and victimized and made invisible in those very societies where our men and our boys feel dis-empowered, unable to provide. And that, when they sit on those street corners and all they can think of in the future is no job, no education, no possibility, well then it’s easy to understand how the greatest source of status can come from a uniform and a gun.

‘Evolving Intelligence’

I recently, while channel surfing, came across the movie ‘Simone’ starring Al Pacino. What had seemed like a harmless, frivolous quasi- science fiction movie- when I watched it during its first release- had now become an insidiously reflective modern dramatic representation of the reality of artificial intelligence. Further I was led to also reflect on the covert ways in which false narratives have infiltrated our mass media and by extension our minds’ spaces. A pattern is emerging that we need to be aware of in mass media. This pattern can be framed in a question which is- Is it just me or when there are some real serious and earth life threatening events that something- seemingly innocuous- emerges that operates as a side event and/or deliberate distraction. …I am just saying. For example the numerous and questionable killings of black males in the USA vs. Pokemon, Mannequin, etc challenges.

2016 was a watershed year. A lot of societal and value system changing events took place and may have occurred undetected by the masses. It was a pivotal year for Mother Earth and her inhabitants. Just like the discussion around climate change, i.e. is it real or not? There were so many other crises for which real needed attention and resolutions were being derailed by rhetoric. We are in an age of constant ‘clear and present danger,’ environmentally, socially and politically. This requires global consciousness.

The average man cannot afford to be average anymore. We must be (not become) sober. (There is no time for a learning curve). 2017 is the year! This is the year that will set the tone for ….well everything. Our senses, our knowledge, our intelligence should evolve. We should all, as much as possible, dig deeper. Seek clarification. Be more discernible. Determine one’s core belief system. Be resolute. Evolve.

Crying for our children and thinking about the future…

One of the item on the nightly news just now was the fatal road death of a 7 year old boy from a corporate area school in Kingston, Jamaica. Coincidentally, I also read the article in the Jamaica Gleaner 24/04/2016 entitled, ‘Secret Gardens’ all cried out-Monument to remember children killed across the island running out of space. The terrible feeling of sadness that engulfed me on both instances was so profound that I felt myself thinking what would I do if I lost my child. It is not an easy task being a parent, the kind that is involved and well-meaning. We are consumed with worry every day from the moment of their conception and gestation, birth and indeed throughout every spectrum of our children’s lives. We do everything humanly and legally possible to take care of them- to provide for them. Some parents have even selflessly participated in dubious life threatening activities to ensure that their children are fed, clothed and sheltered. It is therefore a most hurtful and hard to fathom / incomprehensible pain such parents feel when they lose their child/children in un-natural ways. (Natural ways are just as devastating but its perhaps a little more bearable…and for this I may even debate otherwise…but the point is made). My father, who himself died as a result of a ‘hit and run’ road fatality, always said he wanted long life so that he would be able to see his children ‘pass the worse.’ Then there is the old adage about, a parent should never have to bury a child. You love your child for life, if you are a vested parent.You love to death. To love and have sorrow for the same thing and at the same time is the hardest undertaking.

Photo credit:http://evenifministries.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/memorial-for-unborn-children.jpg

I remember the gut-wrenching pain I felt when I heard that my father had passed. That is incomparable. However I noted how I was a bumbling, snot nosed tearful mess when I had some scary pains in the early part of my pregnancy when I thought I was going to lose my child possibly by a miscarriage. Most poignant was also in June 2015 when my ever stoic child called me to inform me that a JUTC bus ran into the side of another JUTC in the Half Way Tree bus terminal – at the exact vicinity of the window where he was seated. He was asleep and woke to the shattered window and jolt produced by the impact….I was a crumbling mess after the confusing moments and the state of affairs was sorted out including sending prayers of thanksgiving. I bawled…just at the prospects …again….this time that I could have lost my teenager. I recount all these personal moments to indicate, while not over-simplifying, that losing a child is heart breaking and life shattering! It is not surprising that my heart weeps when I hear news of a child’s life being pre-maturely and senselessly taken. When you are a parent you can empathize with other parents. Their child did not get to have a future. We as adults have to protect them when we can and work as a collective to protect them overall. Look out for them on the streets, inquire of them when they look sad or forlorn….it [still] takes a village.

Reflecting on the future….Unfortunately, I was not able to leave the island for a thematic meeting on Habitat III in Toluca, Mexico. I blogged about that meeting in an earlier post…. Please read the article in Citiscope  https://shar.es/1e0rSA that offers an insight on the level of participation. As a point I made was mentioned in the article,this led me to consciously ponder on an ever-present thought- the FUTURE I WANT and the future I want for my child. Presently, some systems seem to be on a collision course… for example there is water scarcity, marine life overkill, ‘homelessness,’ erratic weather due to changing climate and the list goes on. In addition our children may not have a secure world to exist in as monopolistic and capitalistic ideologies continue to create situations  resulting in the displacement, destabilization and disenfranchised of peoples and states.To this end I remain resolute to participate in the development and environment sectors so that we will have a world with the same common pool of resources for them as we partook of when we were children….

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)

 

 

 

Planting trees, Paris Agreement and Protecting Mother Earth….the 3Ps!

April 22, 2016 was a very, very special day. Personally (and professionally too)- the day commemorates my completion of graduate studies from the noble State University of New York- College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF). This institution continues to be highly ranked as having the best environmental programs in the USA. My intellect was enhanced by quantum leaps and my inclination as a ‘tree-hugger’ was officially solidified there.

The day also marked International Mother Earth Day. Quite aptly the theme for the day was ‘trees for earth’ and in the shorthand, social media application #trees4earth. PRAJAco partnered with the youths and planted seedlings donated by the Forestry Department. Trees

One of the seedlings- Blue Mahoe- planted by PRAJAco and OHBCYC. International Mother Earth Day, 2016.

The information below from the Earth Day network is very useful.

Why Trees?

Trees help combat climate change.
They absorb excess and harmful CO2 from our atmosphere. In fact, in a single year, an acre of mature trees absorbs the same amount of CO2 produced by driving the average car 26,000 miles.

Trees help us breathe clean air.
Trees absorb odors and pollutant gases (nitrogen oxides, ammonia, sulfur dioxide and ozone) and filter particulates out of the air by trapping them on their leaves and bark.

Trees help communities.
Trees help communities achieve long-term economic and environmental sustainability and provide food, energy and income.

(See more at: http://www.earthday.org/earth-day/earth-day-theme/#sthash.wmvLV5Ku.dpuf).

In addition, for many of us environmentalists and development specialists, it was also a most significant day. This was due to the fact that a recorded 175 countries signed the Paris Agreement for Climate Change in New York at the UN Headquarters. Our government in the person of Minister Kamina Johnson-Smith signed the agreement, on behalf of Jamaicans. It was also quite a symbolic gesture that Sen. John Kerry signed the agreement for the USA with his grand-daughter in hand. I thought that an illustrative declaration as the American Indian proverb states that, ‘we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.’

Climate change is a clear and present danger across the globe. All of us are affected and impacted. It is unfortunate that there are still persons who doubt the reality. The link below, as titled, is a very good presentation providing some great information for our Caribbean (briefly) and Jamaican context (specifically the impacts on biodiversity).

Dr. Dale Webber’s Presentation on Climate Change via www.nepa.gov.jm

The 1.5and below rallying cry and campaign leading to COP21, for which SIDS were the main stakeholders, is said to have had a huge impact because the evidence of climate change is already real for these countries. The combination of these events helped to increase my resolve to continue to avail myself to serve and to also encourage my partners to do the same. Its time for ACTION and PRACTICAL SOLUTIONS- now more than ever.

Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)