Environment contaminated with highly toxic substances, endangering the health of nearby communities

It’s 9 a.m. and the rural district of Mount Airy in central Jamaica is already sweltering. As the cars roll down the area’s unpaved roads, clouds of chocolate-brown dust erupt from behind their rear wheels.

It is here, 50 km west of Kingston and 500 meters above sea level, that the Mount Airy Farmers group holds a morning meeting. There are about two dozen people and they all say the same thing; they struggle to maintain the productivity of their plots despite diminishing rainfall, a byproduct of climate change.

“The weather here is much drier for longer these days,” says Althea Spencer, the treasurer of the Mount Airy Farmers group, based in north Clarendon. “If you don’t have water, it makes no sense to plant seeds because they will just die.”

However, the farmers have recently received help in their search for water.

A few meters from where they are gathered is a two-story shed with a drainpipe on the roof that channels rainwater into a large black tank. It is one of more than two dozen reservoirs scattered throughout these mountains. They are part of a project supported by six United Nations (UN) agencies to help Mount Airy farmers adapt to climate change.

“This partnership between the UN and communities is exactly the kind of activity needed to address the everyday and practical impacts of climate change,” said Vincent Sweeney, head of the Caribbean subregional office at the United Nations Climate Change Programme. ‘environment. (UNEP). “As we look beyond the Glasgow Climate Change Conference, it is essential that we … adapt to the new realities of a warmer planet in order to protect lives and livelihoods in Jamaica and the Caribbean.”

The challenge is not unique to the region. Droughts, floods and the spread of pests, the by-products of climate change, threaten agricultural production worldwide, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. This is potentially disastrous in a world where nearly 700 million people go hungry every year.

Small farmers, who work more than 80 percent Farms around the world, in particular, will need support to remain resilient to climate change, experts say.

A country at risk

Farmers in Jamaica, an island nation of 3 million people, are particularly vulnerable. In 2020, Jamaica became the first Caribbean country to submit a tougher climate action plan to the UN because the country was threatened by rising sea levels, drought and more intense hurricanes. his government declared.

In 2018, Mount Airy farmers signed up for the UN-supported program program which helps build community resilience in the face of threats such as climate change, poverty and water insecurity. It is considered the first joint United Nations program in Jamaica, combining the resources of six agencies, including UNEP.

In Mount Airy, the United Nations program has invested in 30 new water harvesting systems. The large black reservoirs, which appear on top of the hills like turrets, capture and store rainfall, allowing farmers to use it evenly through a drip irrigation system. This reduces the emerging threat of longer and more intense drought periods.

The new irrigation system also frees farmers from watering their crops by hand. “Before we had the new system, we had to predict the rainfall to put the seedlings in,” says Spencer, a rollerball pen neatly tucked into her hair and her feet moving over the sun-scorched earth. ” It feels good. This gives me more time to clean the house, keep my farm records up to date and I have time to go to the market.

Next to the tanks are drums that mix the fertilizer with water and distribute it evenly among the crops, saving farmers valuable time. Soluble fertilizer is also less expensive than standard fertilizers.

In addition, the irrigation system improves yields. Spencer now grows and sells more sweet potatoes, peppers and tomatoes than ever before.

Coupled with the water reservoirs, the program also prioritized education. The seminars are organized by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority, a government agency, which aims to broaden the knowledge and skills of the farmer.

While it’s not unusual for women to farm these lands, Spencer explains how the trainings have helped empower the female members of the group by coming together. “For me, apprenticeships and training unite us women,” she says.

A life in the mountains

Back at the Mount Airy Farmers’ Gathering, the congregation says some prayers and repeats their mantra aloud twice: “We are the Mount Airy Farmers’ Group, our motto is: All Grow in Fear and failure, bearing the fruits of confidence and success.”

Spencer, who is in her 40s, is a vocal attendee at the reunion and obviously very popular. She was born in Mount Airy and has farmed these fields most of her life. She has vivid memories of working on her father’s farm as a child. Unable to afford to pay anyone else, he often took her out of school to sow and harvest the fields.

It’s a common refrain for many who grew up in Mount Airy – and one that the new UN agenda aims to change.

“If my father had this harvesting system, would I have been in school more?” Spencer wonders. “Yeah probably. But even then he was still working with us. So I’m sure he would find us something to do,” she laughs.

Spencer welcomes the introduction of water tanks. However, she says current rainfall patterns mean the water sometimes still runs out. “If you don’t manage your water properly, one will run out before you get anywhere,” she said worryingly.

Its story may be one of success today, but it shows that living with climate change will require adaptation and continued investment for years to come. from UNEP 2021 Adaptation Gap Report called for an urgent increase in funding for climate change adaptation. He found that adaptation costs in developing countries are five to ten times higher than current public finance flows for adaptation, and that the adaptation finance gap is widening.


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