Teaching climate justice and resilience through ancestral plant heritage in Jamaica

"Teaching Climate Justice and Resilience Through Ancestral Plant Heritage In Jamaica"" is a topic that highlights the importance of incorporating traditional knowledge and practices in addressing the challenges of climate change. Jamaica, like many other countries, is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as sea level rise, more frequent and severe weather events, and changes in rainfall patterns. In this context, ancestral plant heritage, or the knowledge and practices associated with traditional plant-based medicine and agriculture, can play a significant role in building resilience and promoting climate justice. By recognizing and valuing ancestral plant heritage, individuals and communities can develop sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture practices that protect both the environment and local culture."

According to an article by the United Nations, the foods we consume daily have been directly linked to the diminishing health of the environment, as “the climate impact of food is measured in terms of greenhouse gas emissions intensity”.

“The emissions intensity is expressed in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents, which includes not only CO2 but all greenhouse gases, per kilogram of food, per gram of protein or calorie,” the UN says.

It is said that animal-based foods, “especially red meat, dairy, and farmed shrimp, are generally associated with the highest greenhouse gas emissions”, and the report stated the reasons for this.

However, “plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, peas, nuts, and lentils, generally use less energy, land, and water, and have lower greenhouse gas intensities than animal-based foods”, the UN explained.

This report helps to bring perspective to the work being done in Jamaica by the National 4-H Gardening Programme, the Jamaican Hummingbird Taino and Maroon Peoples, and the Caribbean Youth Environment Network, who have held several workshops titled “Teaching Climate Justice and Resilience Through Ancestral Plant Heritage in Jamaica”.

Their fight against climate change and for climate justice has seen them advocating for more plant-based foods to be added to the diets of all Jamaicans. Kasikeiani Ronalda, a member of the Jamaican Hummingbird Taino and Maroon Peoples, notes that food consumption and production have changed in Jamaica as more people are looking to get their nutritional benefits and satisfaction from unethically produced food.

She says that while plant-based foods are easily accessible in the local markets, they are being pushed to the side for other food items.

“The food that we consume has changed, and a lot of our foods like cassava, dasheen, and some types of yams and sweet potatoes are being slowly but surely wiped from our plates,” Ronalda says.

These climate justice advocates have also sounded major alarms against monoculture and its effects on land. 

Monoculture refers to the agricultural practice of growing a single crop or plant species on a large scale, typically over many consecutive years and in a given area.

Ronalda says that in her Taino community, food items are planted with consideration for the land, as different seeds are sown at a specific time to ensure that nutrients are always returned.

“We work with the land and the cycles of the land, and that assists us in keeping our diverse plant heritage intact to this day. As indigenous people, we look at our plants as an extension of who we are, so the same way we treat each other in our community is the same respect that we have for the plants and the land,” she explains.

This practice is often used in modern industrial agriculture and is intended to maximize yields and simplify crop management. However, monoculture can lead to problems such as soil depletion, decreased biodiversity, and increased susceptibility to pests and diseases. Additionally, it can have negative impacts on local ecosystems and communities that rely on agriculture.

Senior Researcher Dr. Marisa Wilson believes that the effects of monoculture are far too great to be ignored by the larger countries that she says are the key participants in this method of production.

“A part of climate justice for us is about diverting pallets, food systems, and the ways that foods are produced and consumed away from those industrial models of production and towards locally produced foods. But also, the justice element has a lot to do with the discredited, marginalised, and dispossession of resources and land from indigenous peoples and maroon communities, who have not been given the resources to build up their food production systems in such a way that they could feed their communities and beyond,” Dr. Wilson explains.

“What we’re trying to get across is the fact that it’s time for people in power and those who are teaching youth to remember the importance of these foods because they have also been disregarded as peasant foods across the world. Plus, a part of the issue with the mass monoculture is that it is creating climate change, so 1/3 of Co2 emissions that are affecting the earth is due to agriculture and our industrial food systems,” says Dr. Wilson.

She notes that these “very climate destructive” actions are usually beneficial to the larger countries in the global north, as they are the ones that mostly earn from the agricultural industry. She says that there is a disproportionate use of global atmospheric commons by these companies, as though there are many other ways of producing food, they have chosen to rubbish them as “postcolonial forms of knowledge and production systems”.

“You have mass landscapes in Canada, the US, and Europe across the global north that are benefiting from the mass global emissions from monocultures. It is also not just monocultures, it is the shipping, production, and the different chemicals in the factory production that are used in trying to make the handful of ingredients that are produced in monocultures into a whole range of different ultra-processed food products,” she says.

Another researcher and climate justice advocate, Dr. Sylvia Mitchell, says that while monoculture affects the entire world, it does not affect all citizens in the same way. This, she says, is another reason for their advocacy programmes seeking to encourage a plant-based diet.

“The part of climate justice you have to think about is that the climate is not disrupted for all people. So there’s a part of justice that has to do with remembering everybody, remembering all voices, and letting all voices be part of the solution that needs to come for us to continue existing on this earth,” says Dr. Mitchell.

Monoculture and climate justice are closely related because monoculture practices can have significant impacts on the environment and can contribute to climate change. Monoculture practices can lead to soil degradation, which can reduce the amount of carbon that is stored in the soil.

In the context of monoculture, climate justice means considering the impacts of monoculture on the environment as well as the impacts on local communities and the broader global community. It means working to find sustainable and equitable agricultural practices that benefit both the environment and the people who rely on them for their livelihoods.

 Overall, promoting climate justice involves recognizing the interconnectedness of environmental, social, and economic systems, and working to create solutions that benefit everyone. This may involve supporting local farmers and indigenous communities that use sustainable agricultural practices, promoting agroecology and regenerative farming practices, and working to reduce the reliance on monoculture and industrial agriculture.



This story was originally published by the Jamaica Observer, with the support of the Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship, which is a joint venture between Climate Tracker and Open Society Foundations.


Rochelle Clayton

Rochelle Clayton

Rochelle is a young Jamaican journalist who is passionate about impacting lives and making valuable changes in her community.

She has covered a range of beats in her two-year career at the Jamaica Observer and is looking forward to cementing her feet in the field of journalism.

In addition to covering news stories, Rochelle is a writer for the Jamaica Observer’s travel publication LetsTravelCaribbean.com.

She has recently decided to lend her service to the Montego Bay Rotaract Club where she will be participating in volunteerism.

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