Nestled between Gayle and Guy’s Hill, Jeffrey Town in north-eastern Jamaica is particularly exposed to natural disasters. At an elevation of 1,700 feet, the village is built on sloping terrain and has the highest total recorded number of landslides in the country.
This is where Jeffrey Town Farmers Association (JFTA) was founded in 1991 to strengthen opportunities for local farmers to make a decent living — and to move away from methods that were degrading the environment. Over time, the farmers have increasingly focused on responses to climate change and disasters.
“We grow more drought resistant crops now, such as dasheen and sweet potato”, explains Ivy Gordon, secretary of JFTA. “We produce strawberry jam and make different flours made of breadfruit, sweet potato, cassava and banana. We also make a pancake mix, a sweet potato pudding mix and a line of banana and plantain porridges,” she adds. The products are being sold in local stores across the country under the brand of Jet Town Products.
In recent years, Jamaica has become increasingly vulnerable to hurricanes, floods and earthquakes with serious environmental, social and economic implications. Estimates show an annual average loss of 2 per cent of GDP due to disaster events. And the agricultural sector is one of the most vulnerable, with direct impacts on 16 per cent of the country’s labour force who are occupied by it.
Jeffrey Town sets an example for disaster risk reduction
When Jamaica presented its first Voluntary National Review earlier this year, outlining the country’s progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), disaster risk reduction and resilience were highlighted by the Government as key areas to achieve the 2030 targets.
Jeffrey Town farmers know what this means and are addressing risk and resilience in multiple ways — while contributing to the SDGs. The community has built gabion walls to fight land slippage, constructed draining ponds to control water movement on hillsides, and installed solar and wind power plants to reduce deforestation and dependence on expensive grid electricity — which can be lacking for several weeks after disasters. Efforts to diversify agriculture and new organic farming methods have resulted in lower economic vulnerability and decreased chemical degradation. And fruit-bearing trees such as pineapples and breadfruit have been planted to both stabilize hillsides and serve local diets. The activities were supported by the UNDP-implemented GEF-Small Grants Programme.
“Every month, we deliver 80 packs of porridge free of charge to about 2,000 students at three primary and secondary schools for kids with special needs. As a past school teacher, I know you can’t work when you’re hungry,” says Ivy Gordon.
This is not the only way in which Jeffrey Town Farmers interacts with young people. With employment opportunities being scarce in the St Mary parish where the town is located, particularly for young people, the association targets the area’s youth through projects and activities. About 60 young people have been trained to carry out the work with the community radio station which has received Caribbean wide success for its original programming and crucial role for local awareness raising.
“We did a series on organic agriculture, climate change and what farmers can do to improve their livelihood while protecting the environment,” says Michael Barnaby who runs the station. “We encourage farmers to focus on green practices, safe disposal of chemicals, and sustainable crop productivity.”
If it is not risk-informed, it is not sustainable
Vulnerability to natural disasters is among the greatest challenges to achieve the SDGs in Jamaica, affecting the country’s economic growth, food security, livelihoods, infrastructure, and access to education and good health.
To ensure that development gains are not erased by disasters, planning must be smart and risk-informed. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development advocates for exactly this and addresses disaster risk reduction in 25 SDG targets — a notable change from the Millennium Development Goals. By preventing, mitigating and preparing, countries and communities will save money, resources and most importantly — lives.
That is why Jamaica is strengthening its resilience, and UNDP has supported the Government in identifying disaster risk reduction as an SDG accelerator that can boost progress across the 2030 Agenda. Over 200 of the island’s most vulnerable communities have benefitted from activities under the Building Disaster Resilient Communities Programme. And a National Risk Information Platform and a Climate Data Node are currently being developed to facilitate data sharing across the Government.
In Jeffrey Town, the farmers’ association has developed disaster management plans to guide interventions and preparations in the community — and has been recognized internationally for their efforts, for example through the Equator Prize awarded biennially by UNDP. And the residents feel the impact. Ivy Gordon’s husband Wordsworth explains: “If we had not built the first gabion wall by the river bank, homes would have collapsed around it — the whole community would have been washed away. And with every new construction, more people have been trained.”
Looking ahead, JFTA will continue to serve Jeffrey Town with sustainable agriculture practices and disaster risk reduction, while sharing their lesson learned with communities across the island. And breadfruit will continue to play a key role: the farmers’ association is aiming to increase their supply to the insatiable gluten-free market.
The SDG Deep Dive series aims to illustrate how the 2030 Agenda impacts development and showcase early results from the first years of this transformative plan for humanity. Through snapshots of the work from around the world, the stories show how countries and communities are moving the SDGs from paper to practice, with UNDP’s support.
Text by Catharina Klingspor, photos by UNDP Jamaica