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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‘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.

Jackass seh di world nuh level…

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‘Jackass seh di worl’ nuh levle’ is a Jamaican proverb or saying (if you will) – which loosely translates to, ‘ Jackass says that the world is not on a level playing field.’ This is the phrase that came to mind when I read of and heard about the incident which occurred on March 22, 2016 involving the detention and subsequent return of  twelve (12) Jamaican citizens from Trinidad to Jamaica. It appears that the Jamaica 12 were not even allowed to step foot out of the Immigration lounge. Incidentally, I also recalled another incident in 2011 when a Jamaican female was subjected to similar treatment, albeit in Barbados. Both incidents are disturbing to me as a travelling member of the Caribbean community. It is worrying on so many levels. You see what Jamaica has in common with these two other islands is that we ALL are a part of a regional conglomeration known as CARICOM- the Caribbean Community. (Formally this brings together 15 states in the Caribbean namely Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Haiti, Jamaica, Grenada, Guyana, Montserrat, St. Lucia, Suriname, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago).

The objectives of the Caribbean Community are to improve standards of living and work; the full employment of labor and other factors of production; accelerated, coordinated and sustained economic development and convergence; expansion of trade and economic relations with third States; enhanced levels of international competitiveness; organization for increased production and productivity; achievement of a greater measure of economic leverage; effectiveness of Member States in dealing with third States, groups of States and entities of any description; and the enhanced coordination of Member States’ foreign and foreign economic policies and enhanced functional cooperation. Source: http://www.caricom.org.

Therefore my first concern is in the form of a question -what are the two incidences an indication of? My researcher mind already sees the trend, because there are other such incidences  it is just that these two are the more recent and most publicized. You see dear readers the formation of the CARICOM was not an easy feat. [In fact] it was the result of a 15-year effort to fulfil the hope of regional integration which was born with the establishment of the British West Indies Federation in 1958. The West Indies Federation came to an end in 1962 but its end, may be regarded as the real beginning of what is now the Caribbean Community. I grew up hearing my father talk about the issues and challenges leading to the establishment of CARICOM. Just as with the formation of the European Union, there were countries more in favour of joining than others. I learnt, through anecdotal stories, that the eastern Caribbean islands were most in favour whilst there was some hesitation by Jamaica and others. To delve deeper into the historical background may be quite an interesting read for another article, but I can’t help but wonder…Are we being punished for the past misdeeds and utterances in the time of the hesitation? Are people still ‘carrying feelings’ and are now sticking it to us in anyway they can? The answer to these questions and the context may then give a base indication of the problem.

Further historical background shows Jamaica being, by the last quarter of the 18th  century,the richest colony in the British empire. This prestige extended to the 19th century. Jamaica could justifiable stake claim to have made a major contribution to Britain’s dominance on the world stage. The island continued to experience good favour until its post -independence era. Incidentally, BOTH Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago gained independence in 1962, with the power to control their domestic and external affairs. It is also helpful to highlight some other significant events which occurred during this time. Natural gas was discovered in Trinidad in 1971, while Jamaica’s main natural resource was bauxite which was discovered in the 1940s. The subsequent establishment of the bauxite-alumina industry shifted Jamaica’s economy from sugar and bananas. By the 1970s, Jamaica had emerged as a world leader in export of these minerals as foreign investment increased. So the stage has been set from 1962 between at least Jamaica and T&T for competitive growth…however several factors contributed to the erosion of most of Jamaica’s advantages. So much so that the island comparatives table will illustrate how much T&T has surpassed Jamaica.

Secondly,  under Article 45 of the Treaty of Chaguaramas (which established CARICOM in 1973) the CARICOM nationals are able to have and enjoy freedom of movement secured by the Member States. More importantly, Article II of the same Treaty includes said freedom of movement as one of the fundamental human rights and freedoms. Therefore for the GOTT to state in its official response the reason that the ‘Jamaica 12’ were denied entry was because they were “deemed likely to become charges on public funds” makes this case ‘curiouser and curiouser.’ The Jamaicans would have done their due diligence before expending the resources to travel to the twin island republic. Airfare cost is not an inexpensive undertaking. In turn, aren’t people innocent until proven guilty… how were the ‘Jamaica 12’ en masse, so deemed. Shouldn’t there be a case-by-case determination? I mean the direction my mind is taking me may be misleading but I can’t help but sense some discrimination.

Thirdly, you see having travelled to that island on at least two occasions I remember being subjected to  some questionable situations, at Immigration and on the island. I remained gracious and dignified. I am always going there for professional conferences anyway but I tend to dress casually for air travel…On a particular late flight from Miami to Trinidad an Immigration Officer at Priarco  was deadpan serious about confiscating my camouflage printed carry on luggage with its content-necessary for attendance at the conference. He was unmoved despite my calm explanation and even after my request to remove the much needed content. It took a Supervisor a brief intervention at which point I was allowed clearance and  sent on my merry  way, fully intact bags and all .

Island Comparatives

In conclusion, I am using an historical lens to paint a  picture for the narrative of the story. The table entitled Island comparatives offers a comparative analysis using some key indices and affords the readers the opportunity to come to some conclusions about the push- pull factors at play. All this is a classic case of free movement in search of economic opportunities. However it,  may be that there are some sibling rivalries and the  sibling with the most marbles is withholding them and sometimes may not be playing fair. But since it is their marbles we have to decide if we want to play or not. We should therefore seek to understand a lot more of the history of our region and decipher the root causes for discord and disunity, which could be inadvertently affecting our relationship with each other. Perceived or real, while there may not be a level playing field we need to derive  a common ground.