I’m quite sure that many Jamaicans think non-governmental organisations (NGOs) exist on thin air. They do not. In fact, they exist by stretching their dollars as far as they can go – and then stretching them some more. Quite often, NGO workers are volunteers or semi-volunteers. Quite often, the heads of NGOs dip into their own pockets, to keep things going. They make sacrifices. Many NGOs (not all, but many) live virtually hand to mouth. Their staff is remarkably small, and usually work long hours. They are dedicated.
Moreover, given the huge gaps in Jamaica’s government services, NGOs also often have to pick up the slack and fill those gaps, where they can. Somehow the needs are always growing, and the funds never stretch far enough to fill those needs.
This is perhaps especially true of environmental NGOs, which are often sidelined because people (and local companies) would prefer to support other “causes” that seem more pressing and emotionally appealing. However, so much depends on the health of our environment, and increasingly so: our precious tourism product, which brings in foreign exchange and employment; our resilience to the various threats of climate change and natural disasters; and importantly, our own health is closely tied to that of the environment.
For this reason, I have decided to highlight the work – and the needs – of some environmental NGOs that are truly in need of support. The first one I want to highlight is the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT).
The JCDT is an NGO and registered charity established in 1988. It manages the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park (BJCMNP), under a delegation agreement with the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) and National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA). The mission of JCDT is to promote environmental conservation and sustainable development, with particular emphasis on the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, for the benefit of Jamaica and our people.
The BJCMNP is Jamaica’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is just over 100,000 acres in size. The area is recognised for its tremendous biodiversity (that is, the range and number of species that live there). This includes an exceptionally high proportion of endemic plant and animal species – including a number of globally endangered bird and frog species – and it is one of the two last refuges of the second largest butterfly in the world, the Giant Swallowtail. It is one of Jamaica’s Alliance for Zero Extinction sites, a Centre of Plant Diversity and an Endemic Bird Area. The mountains rise from 850 to 2,256 meters and it includes Jamaica’s highest point, Blue Mountain Peak (2,256 metres high). Moreover, it includes the Nanny Town Heritage Route (yet to be fully explored), home to Maroon communities – including former and current settlements, trails, lookouts, hiding places, and the Cunha Cunha Pass, also an old Maroon trail. It includes several important watersheds. Waterfalls, rivers and streams are plentiful.
In short, the Blue and John Crow Mountains are magical in so many ways. They are not only beautiful but also unique; many species are found there – and nowhere else in the entire world. And, therefore, these mountain ranges are precious.
Challenges are many, however. They include (but are not limited to) deforestation; the use of land for agriculture and developments of various kinds, especially around the borders of the National Park; invasive alien species; unsustainable agriculture, including subsistence farming and coffee growing; possible mining activities in buffer areas (which should be prevented at all costs); and inevitably, the various impacts of climate change – including the increased threat of wildfires, landslides and so on. There is also the need to manage the area carefully to avoid over-exploitation of the area as a tourism site.
The needs are great, and demands on resources quite enormous. UNESCO notes on its website:
Adequate and increased capacity of staff and funding will be needed to manage the property in the face of the threats outlined above. Sustainable funding will be necessary in particular to strengthen management of the buffer zone and effectively address issues such as planning for sustainable development, support for livelihoods and enhanced community engagement. Stringent monitoring of activities carried out within the property and its buffer zone is also fundamental.
So, right now, what does JCDT need?
Firstly, the organisation has three vehicles – two are ten years old, one is eight years old – and dirt bikes for the Rangers. Because of the rugged terrain and winding, rough roads in many areas, there is a great deal of wear and tear on the vehicles. Often one is out of service, awaiting costly repairs. The Executive Director drives her personal vehicle, for which she does not get a traveling allowance.
So, their specific needs are for at least one vehicle – a pickup – and if possible another four-wheel drive. “A vehicle is not regarded as a sustainable item by funders,” points out Executive Director Susan Otuokon, “but we cannot do our work without them.” The cost of two replacement vehicles would be around J$10 million (US$80,000).
Secondly, there is the recurrent, operational budget, which is inadequate. An additional J$25 million (approx. US$200,000) at least per year is needed to really do a thorough job.
Then there is the immediate need for funds to cover about J$8 million (annually) or US$64,000. This would cover salaries, utility bills, repairs and other administrative expenses. These are not funded through project funding. It is hoped this funding gap will be at least partly filled by donations (for example, through the Friends of the Blue Mountains Programme) and income from the Recreational Areas such as Holywell – cabin rentals, tours and a gift shop, which will be coming on stream.
In the medium and long term, the NGO would like to establish an endowment, which would earn at least this J$8million annually.
Does the JCDT need volunteers? Yes, but mainly to assist in data analysis and administrative work. However, volunteers need training and support. JCDT’s staff is already small (there are 13, one of whom is part-time, and six of whom are Park Rangers); and it is hard for them to manage and supervise volunteers as well.