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Miss Rainee Oliphant Acting CEO & Conservator of Forests National Tree Planting Day 2020

The year 2020 has been an unprecedented one of change for governments, businesses and individuals all around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how intricately linked our health and well-being are to nature. The critical functions performed by nature, which includes the regulation of pathogens that cause illness and disease, all have direct and indirect consequences for our health and well-being.

With the unsustainable use and destruction of the various ecosystems and their resources, we are losing the free services of nature and reducing our resilience to new diseases. Today, let us take the time to examine how our interactions with the natural environment have negatively impacted the various ecosystems including our trees and forests.

Today, despite the unfavourable circumstance, we pause to commemorate the 18th observance of National Tree Planting Day. As we use the opportunity to engage in tree planting activities, let us also reflect on the importance of trees to the economic and social life of our country and at a time such as this, the health and wellness of our people as we focus on the theme, “Healthy Trees, Healthy You; Plant a Tree Today”.

From the very beginning, trees have provided us with two of life's essentials, food and oxygen and over the years, they have provided additional necessities including medicine and a host of products that satisfy our daily needs.

Trees are an important part of every community. They not only enhance the aesthetics of our immediate surroundings but contribute to the maintenance of the island's physical and natural environment in general.   

Trees contribute directly and indirectly to our overall state of wellness as they provide a significant proportion of the fruits and food that we consume daily which helps to build our immune systems and to nourish our bodies. Some trees also have medicinal properties that provide healing benefits, many of which have been used in traditional medicine to treat various maladies and to fight viruses and infections.

The indirect benefits of trees to our health and well-being includes their key role in capturing rainwater and reducing the risk of natural disasters like floods and landslides. When it rains, instead of the water running off our hillsides, washing away our soil and causing floods, the trees and root systems help the water to percolate or seep into the soil, thus slowing the run-off. The soil then acts like a giant sponge absorbing and storing large quantities of water that is later released into streams and rivers. This whole process makes water more affordable and accessible to Jamaicans to drink and to carry out various functions to promote good health.

Another indirect benefit of trees to our health is their role in trapping airborne pollutants, thus removing them from the atmosphere and keeping our lungs healthy.

Trees also play an important role in mitigating against the effects of climate change, which has been described as the one of the greatest environment challenges of our time. According to the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “climate change is projected to increase threats to human health, particularly in lower income populations, predominantly within tropical/subtropical countries”.

Some of the direct health impacts of climate change include thermal stress and death or injury in floods and storms as a result of increased and more intense rainfall.  The climate change panel also noted some indirect health impacts through 'changes in the ranges of disease vectors such as mosquitoes, water-borne pathogens, water quality, air quality, and food availability and quality'.

The role of trees in reducing the impacts of climate change is through the absorption and storage of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. Healthy trees act as carbon sinks, offsetting carbon and reducing the effects of climate change.

It is also true that time spent in nature among trees help to reduce stress and anxiety, promoting good mental and physical health. However, in order for us to continue to enjoy all these free and essential services provided by trees, we have to keep our trees healthy as well as plant more trees to replace those that we have lost over the years.

I therefore use this opportunity to encourage all Jamaicans to take care of the trees in their yards and communities as the health of these trees will determine the benefits they are able to provide.

The care of trees first starts with planting so for those who will be engaging in planting activities, ensure that trees are planted properly and in the right place where they can get the required amount of sunlight. Remember to plant them away from structures and utility poles so as they grow they will not pose any threat to property or life.

Trees need water to grow so ensure they get adequate water daily especially at the seedling stage.  You can reduce the number of times that you may need to water them by applying mulch or dried leaves and other plant materials around the roots. This will help to keep the soil moist as well as fertilize the tree. For mature trees, ensure to check for rot and other damage and prune where necessary.

The act of planting a tree though a seemingly minor one at the individual level, will have a significant impact when thousands of Jamaicans engage in the activity and so we are encouraging all Jamaicans to play their role in planting trees today, which will also count towards the National Tree Planting Initiative also called the Three (3) million trees in Three Years initiative, that was launched by the Most Honourable Prime Minister last year.   

Whether we work in government, the private sector or Non-Government Organizations, whether we live in the cities or the rural areas, we all share the benefits that trees provide, we all live in nature. We owe it to ourselves, to each other and to the generations after us to be stewards of the natural resources with which we blessed. This means using the resources in moderation. It was Mahatma Gandhi who said “the world has enough for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed”. Our vision for Jamaica is a country where we value our nature and use the natural resources in a responsible manner.

Indeed, the trees we plant today, once properly maintained, will redound to our benefit tomorrow.  May they thrive and help to keep our country and people healthy for many years to come.

Thank you.


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