We Can Do It: Three Million Trees in Three Years, Says Prime Minister

I confess that I am still a little hazy about the Prime Minister’s plan, announced with considerable fanfare at the recent Climate Action Summit, to plant three million trees in three years. I would love to have more details. I read this recent column (October 13) by Prime Minister Andrew Holness in the Jamaica Gleaner and still have some questions. I am especially pondering this paragraph:

I believe we could do it faster if we all make solid commitments. Based upon what I’m hearing, we’ve gone almost a million trees already.

This was on the occasion of National Tree-Planting Day, when there were photo ops all over of trees being planted – at the Office of the Prime Minister, at schools, etc. Did those add up to a million? How and where are the trees being distributed? Who is counting the trees?

Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness (centre), explains the importance of trees to students of the Seaward Primary and Junior High School during a National Tree Planting Day exercise at the school on Olympic Way, St. Andrew on October 7. (Photo: JIS)

In my last Jamaica Gleaner blog post, I referred to the Trees That Feed Foundation and the issue of food security, which seems to have received not much more than a nod on World Food Day this year. So according to the Prime Minister’s column, the three million will be primarily timber trees and ornamental trees. I am happy to hear this but perhaps we need three million additional fruit trees. Jamaica’s rating in the newly released Global Hunger Index is not too bad, ranking 32nd out of 117 qualifying countries. Should we be giving this more attention, however?

Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, Hon. Audley Shaw (left), is assisted by student of Christiana High School in Manchester, Vanessa Plummer, to plant a Lychee Tree during this year’s World Food Day National Exhibition at the institution on October 11. The event was staged by the Ministry in collaboration with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to mark the Day, being officially observed on October 16 under the theme: ‘Our Actions are Our Future: Healthy Diets for a #ZeroHunger World’. This year’s celebrations are aimed at heightening public awareness about the importance of healthy diets. Other participants include (from second left): Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Representative for Jamaica, Belize and The Bahamas, Dr Crispim Moreira; Custos Rotulorum for Manchester, Hon. Garfield Green; Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Dermon Spence; Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) Chief Executive Officer, Peter Thompson; and representatives of RADA. A nice photo-op with our Minister of Agriculture; but do fruit trees count? (Photo: Dave Reid/JIS)

And (with reference to my recent post here) who will be doing the Math? Are we going to subtract the number of mature trees destroyed by, for example, bauxite mining and housing developments from this total of three million?

I would love to know more about the “million trees already” mentioned above. I have also noted the focus on mangroves; urban forestry; and primary forest cover.

Please read the Prime Minister’s column below, and see what you think. Incidentally, there is a major error in the penultimate paragraph. I don’t think two million seedlings could possibly be planted on just three hectares of land.

P.S. The Blue Mahoe is our National Tree. You can find one in Emancipation Park.

The Blue Mahoe (Hibiscus Elatus) is the National Tree of Jamaica. (Photo: Emancipation Park)

Andrew Holness | We Can Do It: 3m Trees In 3 Years

The recent observance of National Tree Planting Day was about investing in our future. We planted trees ‘today’ for a prosperous ‘tomorrow’.

The protection of the environment is critical to our survival as a nation.

The Forestry Department has been doing a very commendable job in securing our forested areas and I use this opportunity to thank them for the work they have been doing in protecting and conserving the forestry resources of Jamaica and in educating the public about the value of trees.

Our trees and forests are critical to our sensitive ecosystems that produce our clean air and water. The global research on climate change confirms that small island developing states like Jamaica account for less than one per cent of greenhouse gases.

But small island developing states are among the most affected by climate change. Indeed, small island developing states, you would say, are on the front line – literally.

These are the states most likely to lose their coastlines and are more vulnerable to hurricanes or cyclones.

They are the states, however, that are least prepared, both in terms of institutions, and in terms of their fiscal ability to respond to disasters that may occur as a result of climate change.

Jamaica is in the forefront of climate action leading through the United Nations (UN) in raising awareness and resources to aid in climate action.

Recently, I was involved in the UN’s Climate Action Summit and the 74th Session of the UN’s General Assembly.

Jamaica continues to face, as a small island developing state, the threat of external shocks, particularly natural disasters.

Forested hills in Mavis Bank, St. Andrew (My Photo)


Climate change is real and we must address it in order to secure our future. Our children are depending on us.

Indeed, climate variations have resulted in our intensified drought and now the unpredictable rains we have been having recently.

At the UN General Assembly recently, I announced that Jamaica would embark on a national tree-planting initiative through which we will plant more than three million trees in three years.

I believe we could do it faster if we all make solid commitments. Based upon what I’m hearing, we’ve gone almost a million trees already.

Planting trees is one of the ways in which Jamaica is taking deliberate, strategic and decisive actions to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The National Tree Planting Initiative, which will include the Blue Mahoe, will see the expansion of existing forested areas publicly and privately owned forests as well.

Our aim is to improve the resilience of our coasts, hillsides and plains while also improving the beauty of our urban centres, major thoroughfares, parks, and the added effect of offsetting greenhouse gas emissions.

We will focus on three areas with this national tree-planting exercise. We will be replanting our mangroves, and it is said that mangroves are the most effective in sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.

We will be doing a programme of urban forests – that doesn’t mean that we’re going to knock down buildings and plant trees – but where buildings and urban spaces exist we will integrate more trees in those spaces so that the trees complement the built environment that already exists.


We are not saying we’re planting trees because it sounds good or it is now the political flavour of the month. We’re planting trees because it is a strategic part of our response to the issues of climate change.

While forests cover 40 per cent of the island, only 19 per cent of that amounts to what is called closed broad-leaf forests or primary forests.

The closed broad-leaf forests, or the primary forests, would be what Christopher Columbus saw when he came to Jamaica, so from that time until now, only 19 per cent of it remains.

Of course, there are other forms of forests, degraded forests, where the tree cover doesn’t form a canopy and that is still good, still effective, especially if you have it on hillsides, but we need to increase that.

We need to increase the primary forests cover and we need to protect even the degraded forests that we have.

Between 1998 and 2013, we measured that we have had a net gain approximately 0.41 per cent of forest cover. You see how small that is?

But the trend in other countries is that you don’t have a net gain.

In other countries, they are cutting down more trees than they are replacing, but in Jamaica, we’ve had a programme in place and that has been effective in replacing what we’ve cut down.

But with this initiative, I’m hoping that we will see a net gain in excess of five per cent. I have been told that we will not achieve that, but I’m still ambitious because, who knows, maybe every single Jamaican citizen will get the message and seek to plant two trees instead of one.

It is for this reason that the Government is protecting more than 74,000 hectares of the Cockpit Country.

This area comprises the majority of the vulnerable ecosystems in that region of Jamaica, as well as sensitive hydrological and ecological assets and cultural assets that exist there.

While the country continues to develop, the Government’s aim is to ensure that there is no net loss of Jamaica’s forest cover.

Two million timber seedlings will be planted on, or over, three hectares (sic) of land and the remaining one million timber or ornamental tree seedlings will be distributed to the public for planting, as well as planting in parks, along roadways and major thoroughfares in major towns across Jamaica.

We are committed to this initiative; three million trees in three years, we can do it. We can do it for ourselves and we can do it for our children, we must do it for our future.

– Andrew Holness is the prime minister of Jamaica. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.

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