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New Approach to Funding Tertiary Education: Shaping the 21st Century Mona Campus

KINGSTON: Nov 2016 [MONA News}: The leadership of The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, is on a mission to make this the region’s most modern and sought-after institution, using a development model which could become the go-to for other campuses and institutions.

In recent years, there have been several changes: a new medical building, new halls of residence, restaurants and banking facilities. Strapped for cash but determined not to borrow, Mona’s Principal Professor Archibald McDonald and his team are pursuing a series of public/private Partnerships that have breathed new life into the 68 year-old institution.

The slow steady pace of development is being ramped up: old buildings are giving way to new ones, old facilities refreshed and equipment upgraded. The plans are as ambitious as they are optimistic and expensive, but the University is racing full speed ahead. Surprisingly, the institution is not spending a single cent. Speaking with Mona Magazine recently, Professor McDonald outlined a raft of initiatives that aim to reshape the sprawling Mona Campus into an ultra-modern institution offering its students a world-class education in line with corporate needs, the very best in accommodation, student services and comfort.

Mona’s student housing development model is now seen as the standard for cash-strapped colleges and institutions, and is to be rolled out across the entire UWI system. Who would have known that a rather contentious induction speech just over three years ago would result in a prolific and rewarding relationship between the Mona Campus and the private sector.

“During my induction speech I noted that governments over the years had not done enough for the University… and I challenged the private sector to do more. It has paid off,” Professor McDonald said with a chuckle. He noted that the “relationship between the private sector and the university has never been closer”. On one hand, UWI is getting what it needs in development: technological and industry support through several Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) and Private/Public Partnerships, while the investors salve their corporate responsibility needs and makes a profit.

A partnership between The UWI, Mona and 138 Student Living – a subsidiary of K-Limited – to refurbish, remodel and operate its halls of residence, has revolutionised the management of student housing. Irvine Hall is being refurbished, demolishing some of the old buildings to make way for new ones, adding another 1,100 rooms to bring world-class accommodation and ‘home comforts’ to campus living. And this is only the beginning.

The agreement for the construction of 1,584 houses at a cost of $4 billion over three years should increase the number of rooms on the Mona Campus to about 6,000. The first 480 units have already been delivered, 500 will be handed over soon and the balance, scheduled for handover in 2017. This makes the University the largest single owner of ‘hotel’ rooms on the island.

“Because of the cash flow problems we have not been able to maintain the facilities properly, so outsourcing gives us the opportunity to do the renovations which are necessary and have world-class accommodation for our students,” Professor McDonald explained.

New housing is only one component of the overall strategy to increase revenues, Mona’s principal continued: “We are trying to increase the number of international students. It has been slow, but what we have done is to attract more regional students especially from Trinidad and Tobago. Whenever you bring students from outside of Jamaica, you need to provide accommodation for them”.

K Limited and UWI’s other partners will recover their investments from the savings and earnings. Ambitious as this is, it is only the tip of the iceberg.

The next three to five years will see major changes on Campus, among them the conversion of the 15-room Mona Visitors’ Lodge & Conference Centre into a 150-room hotel; and the development of College Common. Replacing the Mona Visitors’ Lodge will improve the offerings at what is already a “very nice place for weddings” to provide modern conference facilities and a one-of-a-kind wedding location.

Over at College Common, the UWI-owned residential property, things are about to change. The 100-acre property which is currently home to some of the University’s senior academic and adminstrative staff, is a laid-back community of colonial-style homes on up to an acre of land. Its current layout makes it difficult to secure and maintain, Professor McDonald said, noting: “College Common has been there for 60-odd years, it is exactly as the British left it, only it is much worse as the houses are in disrepair.”

A mix of town houses, apartments and up-scale homes, some of which will be offered as high-end rentals to companies and Embassies, will replace the run-down old houses, provide staff with updated facilities and the university with much-needed revenue to continue funding the extensive development plans that are being rolled out.

There is no doubt this project could reap big benefits. After all, the Mona Campus sits on some prime lands, in a coveted zip code. And pulling everything together, an ultra-modern Campus/Student centre housing a modern auditorium for university functions including the annual graduation exercise, the housing of the students’ union, a place where students meet, study or just hang out. In addition to the coffee shops, meeting and reading rooms, the centre is expected to be a hub of activity for the 18,000 students on roll.

But plans would not be complete without an adequate supply of water and cost-effective energy. In fact, the co–generation plant that is already cooling several of the buildings on campus will also provide electricity. Once completed, the plant is expected to only reduce the campus’ dependence on the national grid, and slash energy costs by as much as 50 percent – that translates to roughly $50 million dollars in monthly savings.

In addition, the University’s well-publicised water woes are about to disappear. A new well providing 750,000 gallons a day will more than satisfy the campus’ 500,000-gallon daily requirement, saving an additional $20 million in water charges. With all these coming together, Professor McDonald is delighted.

“If you were to look at our audited statements we would not be able to afford all of this,” he said. But the private/public partnership agreements have allowed the University to improve campus facilities and the value of the services on offer.

“I see this as a new model for the funding of tertiary education,” McDonald said, noting that institutions need money to stay competitive amidst growing competition.

And how much will all this development cost? On the conservative side, more than US$2 billion. What is important, however, is that The University will not spend ‘one red cent’, as the saying goes. As Professor McDonald puts it, Corporate Jamaica is finally seeing the value of partnering with the institution.

The benefits are mutual, ranging from product design, development and testing to skills transfer, professional development and income generation; and for students, industry-specific training, internships and scholarships.

Investors including local corporations like the Jamaica Public Service, the French giant Total, and US marijuana company CITIVA, all fund projects that improve their products and outputs, and add to their bottom line. And the improvements to the Mona Campus are not all.

Over at the University Hospital of the West Indies, in addition to the installation of a fully computerised medical filing system, slated for completion early next year, architectural designs for a major rebuilding project are on the ‘drawing board’. Several buildings will be demolished and replaced, Professor McDonald said.

This year, as the University prepares to begin clinical trials of marijuana extracts to treat epilepsy in children and chronic pain; the expansion and relocation of the Western Jamaica Medical Campus has begun and negotiations are underway for the construction of a modern medical facility on the site of the new campus to take advantage of the growing medical tourism market.

Even so, The UWI Mona continues to look for ways to leverage the many opportunities available, with entrepreneurs with the acumen and fortitude to take up the challenges. Take the Usain Bolt Track for instance. There are plans for a gym and winter sports centre around the state-of-the art running track.

“We just need someone to manage the process, but then that might be for my successor,” Professor McDonald said thoughtfully.

And there are so many things to do. With world-class athletes and universities lining up to experience the training that made the ‘Big Man’ a legend – and the opportunities presented by an Olympic-sized swimming pool –Mona’s standing as the home of the athlete dubbed the ‘Living Legend” is destined to soar.

-Zadie Neufville

FactChecking, Lunacy and the White House: Am I Dreaming?

January 28, 2017
You know, these days I fact check anything that comes from the White House- even a photo.
Before this past January 20, 2017, I just accepted that information from the Office of POTUS, was by and large the truth- expected that, actually. I’m one of those who believe that any information that is released- more so from the leader of the ‘Free World –  should be accurate, factual and above the fray (of course I expect omissions and spins- I’m a journalist afterall).fact_check_2

But it seems I’ve been trapped in a nightmare and its only been a week- maybe two. Now I have to check the foreign news and several local US news sources to verify that the White House information is correct, and that my friends is a sad state of affairs. No matter how much of a supporter you are, you’d be lying if you said you’re not concerned- unless you don’t care, or you don’t mind being lied to.

These days I expect the POTUS (not Russia, not Erdoğan or even Duturte) to do and say the most outrageous, shocking, awful (not to mention ignorant) things. Frankly, I believe that pretty soon, a Tweet from the Tweeter-In-Chief will start a war, or at least get somebody killed.

Lesson From China’s Sparrow Eradication Experiment
I am convinced there is a deranged man on the loose in the White House, so with the expected changes to the EPA, an article I recently read about Chairman Mao’s decree in 1958 (which called for the death of all sparrows) came to mind The story resonates, because it illustrates how destructive a leader that creates his own facts can be (and I think seven (7) bankruptcies  is an indicator).

Mao thought sparrows ate too much grain, and was therefore hampering China’s development, so he ordered them killed. The sparrow eradication programme caused an environmental catastrophe, because (and as we all now know) every living thing as a role in this circle of life. In the three years following the decree, 45 million people died in a famine caused by out-of-control pests. You see, sparrows feed on insect pests and were critical to their control.  Read the story here

Catastrophes happen when ‘ignorant’ leaders plough ahead with their plans above all else, and history is ‘paved’ with ‘gems’ like these, -teaching moments. In fact, several unique and vulnerable species are about to meet their demise with this border wall obsession and actions POTUS promised to take so that farmers can get the water they need, and in the process destroy California’s aquifers and surface water systems. However, it is the price one pays when an illiterate (his reading and speech say so much), insufferable gas bag with a ‘god’ complex is given too much power.

Beware, The Bully Re-Awakens
Far worse, I see that old bully  re-emerging in the Americas, as an antagonist, lyingTrump and the GOP try to “Make America Great Again”. What’s even more scary? Small, Latin and South American countries acquiescing before the fight has even begun- my utmost respect to Mexico and its president Enrique Peña Nieto who had signalled their intention to back out of the January 31 meeting a day prior to the dim-wit’s tweet.  The liar implied, via Twitter ( the new bully pulpit) that he initiated the cancellation, now he says it is mutual (ofcourse I digress).gty_trump_nieto_as_160831_31x13_1600

Threats are already in the air: “Mexico is going to pay for the wall”; If you build abroad and sell in the US we will impose tariffs; “we’re taking names”, said Nikki Haley a few days ago. For small nations, targeting niche markets where people don’t mind the higher prices; selling directly to the small man and looking to nations where there is likely to be a fair price could be the advantages to break the bully.

So folks, it’s time for southern lands to look South! Looking north is no longer an option- do anything, so something, just down roll over.The boats that take food from Haiti and the Dominican Republic to their Caribbean neighbours seem to be doing well, in other words  tighten your belts and fight the bully. I remain steadfast in my belief, that anti-China sentiments in the Bush years led to the crash of the US economy and the mortgage melt-down- looking inward won’t stop it happening again. This time, be prepared.

Impose your own tariffs and rebuild your industries, form your own trading groups; stand up and fight back. Immediately after Trump announces tariffs, impose your own. Have you forgotten that it was the US who came to you with a plan, because they needed to grow their economy? Your replacement for NAFTA should already be in place. Do you know how many cars are imported to the Caribbean, Central and South America from the European Union, Japan, India and China each year? Have you seen the potential for the supply of food, other goods to go East?

Seek Alternative Markets, Trading Partners
People, there are 196 countries in the world (depending on who you ask), areas that are and continue to grow; areas that lack investments but which are brimming to overflowing with human resources and potential. Africans are leaving their countries in droves due a lack of investment, yet the educated populations on the content are growing super fast. It is time to strike while the iron is hot, as the saying goes.

China's Freight Train leaves for London

China’s Freight Train leaves for London

Lets face it, at this juncture, the US needs Mexico, the Caribbean and Latin America perhaps more than they need the United States. As the world grows smaller, it becomes easier for small producers to find markets elsewhere and perhaps better prices too. Did you see that freight train from China arriving in London last week? Large, medium and small companies can make more by investing in Central and South America, China or India that they can in the US where production prices are higher and sales volume risk stagnation. Imagine the potential for growth in populations of 1.4 billion people that is China, 1.2 billion in India, compared to 318 million in the US.

US Remains The Biggest Beneficiary of Free Trade Agreements
Mexico and other trading partners have been made the scapegoat by a blowhard who has no understanding of the manufacturing trade, he is after all a vendor and one that at best, cheats his suppliers.

After all that is being said, everybody (besides POTUS that is) knows that the North American Free Trade  Agreement’s (NAFTA) biggest beneficiary is the US, where authorities continue to impose rules that prevent smaller nations from entering their protected markets. But suddenly, because Mexico has managed to get some benefit from which should be a reciprocal agreement, they are out of style. I’m sure many African and Caribbean nations haven’t forgotten that its was the US that used the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to destroy the commodity trades with their former colonial rulers in the EU. They destroyed livelihoods and lives and made nations poorer.cargo2

The peoples of the Caribbean, Latin and South America can and must work together to build strong relationships that will rival any region, we can feed ourselves, educate our people and be independent of the bully-ism that is once again coming from America.

When all is said and done, I am still scratching my head that this is the man that Christians in America voted into the White House. They rebuke people for judging the morally deficient serial liar, while they sit in judgement and cast to hell those who oppose their points of view.

Zadie is a journalist and Communications Specialist.

Unravelling the Science behind Ganja

The original article appears in UWI Pelican Magazine

Cannabis also called Solomon’s Weed, Ganja or Marijuana, is hailed as God’s gift to medicine but only a handful of institutions including UWI’s Mona Campus are studying the properties and possible medicinal applications

By Zadie Neufville
The University of the West Indies has revived the ganja research programme it began in the 1970s as it prepares to launch Jamaica as a global “powerhouse” for cannabis research; as famous for its products and services as it already is for reggae and the good ‘ol sensi weed’.

UWI’s Mona Campus in Kingston is one of the few places in the world where marijuana research can take place from plant breeding, through to clinical trials. The country’s international reputation – the ganja culture, music and athletic success – has brought many to the UWI in search of research collaborations.IMG_7735_1

There is new energy and excitement as researchers leverage over four decades of experience in cannabis research, even as they await the completion of regulations that will guide recent amendments to the Dangerous Drug Act.

“We have the knowledge and we have the expertise to make Jamaica and the Mona Campus a major centre, the leading authority and we are positioned to use our Jamaica brand to drive the programme,” Principal of the UWI’s Mona Campus Professor Archibald McDonald, said in an interview with the Pelican.

Best known for the euphoric effect of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), Cannabis is said to contain more than 60 other chemical compounds. It is these other elements that the UWI and its partners want to exploit in its mission to treat a host of complaints for which modern medicines have no answer.

Researchers are particularly excited by the possibilities of the cannabinoids (CBDs), a group of chemicals referred to as terpenophenolic compounds, also known as terpins.

Scientists at UWI’s research partner Citiva Medical are also excited by the promise of ‘terpens’, particularly after the team successfully developed cannabis-derived products to treat a number of ailments. Citiva is the company behind Charlotte’s Web – a strain of cannabis with less than 0.3 % THC – which is being used to treat paediatric epilepsy.

Prior to being treated with the cannabis extract, 8-year-old Charlotte Figi reportedly suffered up to 300 seizures a day due to a rare form of epilepsy, even while on traditional medicines. The extract from Charlotte’s Web and continued success of the treatments using the oil is one of several success stories from Citiva.

The strain of cannabis named Charlotte’s Web for the little American girl, is being grown at the UWI and will be studied with a view to standardising the extracts. The aim is to ensure that every cannabis plant used for medicine has exactly “the same levels of the specific chemical compounds” required to target specific illnesses, with the same results.

In the medicinal cannabis world, Citiva’s executive director Josh Stanley is a rock star. Described as ‘telegenic’ in his approach to the marketing of cannabis as the future of medicine, both Stanley and the equally visionary McDonald share the belief that research in cannabis goes way beyond smoking the weed.

“We are interested in the whole plant, getting away from the single compound and into the promise of its biology – a multi-compound approach to its natural properties,” Stanley said.

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Professor Archibald McDonald, Principal – UWI Mona

McDonald noted: “We are using our permit effectively to help us to establish a Centre of excellence in cannabis research in the Caribbean. We want the Mona Campus to become the leader in Cannabis research internationally”.

 

And there is no shortage of researchers willing to help him build UWI’s reputation and join the quest to find treatment for a long list of complaints. In addition to examining the use of cannabis in the treatment of diabetes, epilepsy, cancer and chronic pain, the UWI Medicinal Cannabis Research Group (UWI-MCRG) is also contemplating the possibilities for its use in anaesthesia and psychiatry among other areas.

Since 2010 UWI’s Forensic Unit under the leadership of Professor Wayne McLaughlin has diligently mapped the DNA of cannabis to among other things, help police identify key ganja growing areas on the island. These days, the data is being repurposed and put to more beneficial uses, he said.

McLaughlin noted that chemical and gene profiling have allowed researchers to classify cannabis plants not only by the names the farmers give them, but also by the plants’ colouring, their unique chemical compositions as well as by the genes that will make them less susceptible to contamination from heavy metals and other impurities.

“Now we are not only able to track the plants but also look at other genes that are important to the plant and its survival. We can now identify those plants with high and low THC and CBD levels as well as identify male and female plants,” the forensic scientist said.

The UWI-MC Research Group are light years ahead of the authorities and were ready with scores of project ideas covering all areas of medicine and science by the time the University received its exemption permit last year.
“The lobby (for legalisation) had the widest cross section of people and professions I’ve ever seen,” Professor McDonald laughed. The result, he explained, is that the UWI is already working on scores of projects ranging from basic science studies to pre-clinical and clinical studies, all in an effort to expand knowledge of the therapeutic uses of cannabis.

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Marijuana researchers on the Caribbean island of Jamaica are planning to develop new pharmaceutical products following the partial decriminalisation of cannabis. (AP/David McFadden)

At the same time, the medicinal research is being enhanced by the ongoing chemical and DNA analyses of the plant. McLaughlin agreed that with so much of the gene sequencing and identification of the chemicals already done, the work done by his team has slashed several years from the expected start-up of clinical trials. It also makes possible the start of the planned Pain Clinic by year’s end, just about coinciding with the start of clinical trials at the University Hospital of the West Indies.

The United States medical marijuana industry is expected to earn as much as US 13billion dollars by 2019 up from US 2.7 billion dollars in 2014. It is expected that the UWI and indeed Jamaica can earn a significant share of the global market from pharmaceuticals, bringing jobs and much needed development. But there will be no products to smoke at the UWI’s Medical Research facilities, even with the 100 million US dollars in monthly sales the US State of Colorado reportedly makes from medical marijuana.

“We aim to change their perception that Jamaica is about a bunch of Rastas and white women getting high,” researcher Carole Lindsay said chuckling. She has been leading the chemical analysis of every strain of Cannabis the University collects from farmers.

A professional chemist, Lindsay noted that creating the chemical profiles of the plants found in Jamaica is critical to protecting both the country’s and the University’s interests.

“Our local strains of cannabis are vulnerable because we assume that with all the interest in ganja, people could be bringing in plants to grow them here. We also know that farmers have been doing their own cross breeding for years,” she explained.

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Ganja plants being destroyed by security forces.

Aside from ongoing research into the properties and effects of Cannabis, the UWI was among the first in the world to successfully develop medicines from the plant. Its work, going back to 1972 when ophthalmologist Albert Lockhart and pharmacologist Dr. Manley West began investigating the anecdotes of fishermen who attributed their exceptional night-vision to their consumption of ‘ganja teas’.

From their research, the Department of Pharmacology in 1987 released the Canasol (TM), eye drops to treat glaucoma and followed that success in later years by a number of pioneering marijuana-derived pharmaceuticals: Asmasol for asthma; Cantivert also used to treat glaucoma; Canavert for motion sickness and Cansens for treating viral infections.

“They (the products) were sold on the local market but we really never managed to export it because of the cannabis. But what it showed clearly, was that there are substances in ganja which can provide effective treatment of glaucoma and asthma,” McDonald, a surgeon by training said.

Much of the University’s work in Cannabis is unknown internationally because the laws that prohibited the use of marijuana severely hampered the University’s research programme as well as the marketing of the products.

In Jamaica, the ‘weed’ is also listed as a dangerous drug and until April 2016, possession attracted penalties of imprisonment. The 1961 UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs criminalised the possession of ganja, a plant that had been used for generations as traditional medicine by local healers and householders.

When parliament ratified the amendment to the Dangerous Drug Act on April 15, it revived decades old research ambitions at UWI and other local institutions. It also paved the way for a “broad permit” that facilitated the planting of the first legal cannabis plant, thereby establishing UWI’s own ‘ganja’ plot and officially initiating the production and testing of cannabis derived medicines.

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Rastafarians can freely use ‘ganja’ as a sacrament

The amendment that was inked on 6 February – birthdate of the late reggae icon Bob Marley – relaxed rules on the use of ganja on the island. Nowadays, possession of two ounces (56 grams) or less, no longer results in jail time. Rastafarians can freely use ‘ganja’ as a sacrament for the first time since the birth of their movement in the 1930s and householders are allowed to grow up to five plants.

In the months since, several companies have released a number of nutraceuticals and topical pain products derived from cannabis. Not withstanding, McDonald said, UWI is interested in the whole plant.

“Our interest is in unraveling the science behind ganja,” he said.

It’s a philosophy shared by its major partners including Citiva Medical, which Stanley a co-founder said, includes the belief “that the future of cannabinoid medicine lies in strict adherence to unraveling the science”.

As head of the UWI Cannabis Research Group, McDonald is expecting even more successes with new technologies, new investments, new partners and if negotiations go well, he is also looking forward to creating improved versions of Canasol and Asmasol.

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Strains of Charlotte’s Web grow in the facility at UWI as Citiva and the University unravel the secrets to producing consistent dosages of the chemicals found. Photo Z. Neufville

US Federal legislation classification of cannabis the plant as a class 1 drug has forced the Jamaican government to tread lightly, even as it granted permits to UWI and others. Regardless, the University is accelerating its research, construction of green houses, the cultivation of several species of cannabis and the signing of MOUs with agencies and organisations from across the globe.

 

There are several proposals awaiting the regulations and profiling must be done quickly to continue supporting the research and development. To aid the process, more than 600,000 US dollars have been spent to upgrade the equipment in the Toxicology lab.

“We are expecting that many products will be produced and have to be tested and quality checked for them to be marketed. We also expect the USDA will soon come up with regulations on cannabis-derived medicines and we are preparing to meet them,” Lindsay said.

Construction of the UWI Mona Cannabis Research Centre and supporting facilities to expand the institutions research capacity and house its partners is estimated to cost some US 4million dollars.

McDonald is expecting that funding from partners will equip and build the facility as “their contribution to UWI’s 40-year cannabis research legacy, accommodation and the prestige of brand-Jamaica”.

So Sorry My Trini Friends, But I Love Me Too

My Dear Trini Friends,

I know you are wonderful individuals and that you would not put your friends through the hassle your Immigration and Airport security have become known to put us through. I love you, and I know you will agree with me that I have to love me too. Every once in a while, I have to take a stand on a point of principle –  only because I love me.

I’ve never overstayed my welcome in Trinidad and Tobago, yet on a stop-over just over a year ago, I was singled out for a very thorough search although I never left the airport. In fact, I was escorted from my plane through what seemed to be a secure (sterile) area via a guarded elevator and to the gate of my connecting flight.

I objected, because I considered this harassment. Before that, I watched as the two other Jamaicans I know (seated in first class) were given the same treatment. Bags emptied on a table, bodies patted and rubbed down, thoroughly searched. Taken from about six spaces from the front of the queue, I was the last person to enter the aircraft.

I was flustered, mad even, but other countrymen and women have been treated much worse than I was. So now that we’ve decided to boycott products made in your homeland, please don’t be offended. In the first place, our balance of trade was never equal, in fact it was the reason so many Jamaicans were looking to work in T&T. Your products are all over our supermarket shelves, our #2 trading partner with close to US$500 million a year.

This is way, way above T&T purchases from Jamaica. And there is a problem when its time to pay. I’m sure you know the term ‘hard pay” its takes a long time and to top it off, T&T Banks say they can’t pay in US dollars.

Members of various governments – who can forget Kamla?- and most recently one ‘big-mouth’ talk show host have made very offensive remarks about my countrymen and women. But, shouldn’t we be the ones to take offence? It is offensive when we are taken aside and searched, harassed just because… It is offensive when politicians old and new believe they have the right to say just about anything to counter the reports of blatant ‘abuse of power’ in what amounts to human rights abuses of my fellow Jamaicans. Detaining and searching without a reason and denial of entry without reason, willy-nilly.

Well, now the people have spoken, or they are speaking with their money. Neither the government nor the opposition have sanctioned it, but the people are speaking loudly and clearly.

On my part, I have not purchased a single item marked ‘Made in Trinidad’ for a sometime now. I’ve encouraged my family to follow suit and now, most don’t. Other Jamaicans are now doing the same. Our aim is to buy local since we have locally made versions of everything made in your country.

We are simply tired of being made the scape goat of every problem in the region and vilified for trying to make a living. We will buy our locally made snacks, sodas and drink mixes and what we don’t make locally, we’ll get it elsewhere. I guess our trade deficit with the US will get bigger.

My friends, I wish this wasn’t so hard, and we do know that local distributors and workers will also feel the pinch but this has been coming for some time. I won’t be travelling to T&T anytime soon, unless its government business and when I do, most likely it won’t be on CAL but I do hope we will remain friends.

No hard feelings, I still love you, It’s just that I love myself too and I won’t pay anyone to abuse me.

Jamaica’s Climate Change Fight Fuels Investments in Renewables

by Zadie Neufville

The following article was published by IPS on January  18, 2016
By year’s end, Jamaica will add 115 mega watts (MW) of renewable capacity to the power grid, in its quest to reduce energy costs and diversify the energy mix in electricity generation to 30 per cent by 2030.

With 90 per cent of its electricity coming from fossil fuels, the government is committed to reducing the country’s carbon emissions by increasing the amount of electricity generated from renewables from 9 per cent now, to 15 per cent by 2020.

Junior Minister Julian Robinson told IPS via email, a National Energy Policy is guiding actions to cut costs and comply with the international agreements to reduce carbon emissions; among them are plans to reduce the amount of electricity generated from petroleum from 95 to 30 per cent.

Reliance on fossil fuels is also costing the country in terms of high local pollution, healthcare costs and its contribution to global climate change. According to Jamaica’s 2nd National Report to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC,) in 2000, the energy sector accounted for 86 per cent of the 9,532 Giga-grams (Gg) of carbon dioxide emissions, up 1,114 Gg over 1994.

And according to business leaders, the high energy cost is a major barrier to the country’s economic development and is a leading cause of business failure in the country. At 0.40 cents per kilowatt-hour, Jamaicans pay one of the highest rates for electricity in the region.

Jamaica's electricity generation systrms and grid will require significant upgrades and expansion. Photo Credit: Zadie Neufville

Jamaica’s electricity generation systrms and grid will require significant upgrades and expansion. Photo Credit: Zadie Neufville

In 2011, 1.48 billion dollars or 15 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was spent on petroleum imports. Even with oil prices currently hovering at an all-time low of below 34 dollars per barrel, a falling Jamaican dollar, the possibility of higher petroleum prices and as much as 22.3 per cent generation and distribution losses (at 2011 estimates) mean the country is unlikely to divert from the course set by the energy policy.

Estimates are that 10 medium-sized wind farms producing 60MW each, could supply the energy needs of more than half of the island. So in 2015, several companies were invited to bid for a chance to help the country reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

More than 200 million dollars were invested to bring a mix of wind and solar projects online. The Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), the agency responsible for overseeing the operations of utility companies, approved 80MW of additional capacity by way of Blue Mountains Renewables’ (BMR) 36.3 MW wind farm and a 24.4 MW addition to the state-owned Wigton wind farm.

To complete the 115 MW of renewable energy commissioned in 2015, Content Solar Limited (CSL) -a Jamaican subsidiary of the Florida based WRB Enterprises – was approved and began construction of a 20 megawatt solar photovoltaic facility, which president Robert Blenker noted will supply enough electricity to power 20,000 homes.

Another 37 MW was tendered at the end of the year, said Robinson who sits in the Ministry of Science and Technology, Energy and Mining.

According to Blenker, “Content Solar will be the largest project of its kind in the Caribbean, delivering clean and reliable renewable energy at a stable price to Jamaica and will displace more than 3 million gallons of fossil fuel currently burned each year.”

Content’s plan falls in line with commitments to make electricity cheaper and more efficient under the new electricity act, Robinson said. The act “provides the framework to maximise efficiencies by the provision of a dispatcher (JPS) that will dispatch the cheapest source of electricity to the end user, ” he added.

There is significant losses in the energy generated because of inefficient distribution systems.

There is significant losses in the energy generated because of inefficient distribution systems.

In addition, the minister noted the government has introduced net billing so that householders who produce excess energy could sell back to the grid. He also pointed out that a “30 per cent reduction in the cost of solar panels” and an improvement in technology that makes wind and solar technologies more efficient will ensure that investments in renewables continue even as the price of oil falls.

WorldWatch Institute’s Sustainable Energy Roadmap for Jamaica 2013 stated that increasing the number of households using solar water heaters, could save an additional 75 to 100 GWh of electricity per year. It concluded that there was a need to create a “smooth transition” to a sustainable and economically viable energy system.

Experts say that by making the switch to an electricity system based mainly on renewables could save the country as much as 12.5 billion dollars by 2030, freeing up much needed cash for public and social spending in a country that according to 2012 estimates, spends around 54 per cent of its earnings on debt servicing.

Wigton Wind Farm, Jamaica. Jamaica Gleaner Photo.

Wigton Wind Farm, Jamaica. Jamaica Gleaner Photo.

If Jamaica transitioned to an electricity system powered almost exclusively by renewables, Jamaica could reduce the average cost of electricity by 67 per cent when compared to 2010 by 2030 the Worldwatch report said.

The transition, could create up to 4,000 new jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector to the equivalent of 0.7 million tons of CO2-annually. Accelerating the process would require high levels of up-front investments but so far, Jamaica has been lucky, since the bulk of the investments have come from investor, private sector and donor funding.

Alexander Ochs, Worldwatch’s Director of Climate and Energy confirmed the report’s findings, noting that Jamaica’s “entire electricity demand could be met with renewable resources” from solar and wind energy.

The public sector has already begun its own programme of retrofitting and energy reduction strategies that is said to be saving millions of dollar in expenditure at government agencies and institutions.

Worldwatch noted that investments of roughly 6 billion dollars could increase the contribution of renewables to Jamaica’s electricity production to 93 per cent by 2030, while significantly slashing energy costs.

So armed with feasibility studies that points to the possibility for hydropower development along six rivers, Robinson is setting his sights on the road ahead, and another 26MW of power in the very near future.

Climate Change Will Increase Damage, Losses in Coastal Communities

Jamaica's Negril beach in the vicinity of the Tree House Hotel bar after rough seas on Good Friday 2013 and prior to the fire that destroyed the Country Country Hotel restaurant in the foreground. Credit: Mary Veira/IPS

Jamaica’s Negril beach in the vicinity of the Tree House Hotel bar after rough seas on Good Friday 2013 and prior to the fire that destroyed the Country Country Hotel restaurant in the foreground. Credit: Mary Veira/IPS

By Zadie Neufville

The following was published by IPS on December 4,  2015. The original is here
Residents of Rocky Point, a bustling fishing village on Jamaica’s south coast, woke up one July morning this year to flooded streets and yards. The sea had washed some 200 metres inland, flooding drains and leaving knee-deep water on the streets and inside people’s home, a result of high tides and windy conditions.

“I’ve been here for 43 years and I have never seen it like this,” Sydney Thomas told the Jamaica Observer newspaper.

Over at the Hellshire Fishing Beach, a community several miles outside the capital city Kingston, fishermen watched as their beach disappeared over a matter of weeks. The sea now lapped at the sides of buildings. Boats that once sat on the sand were bobbing in the surf along the edge of what remained of the white sand beach.

At the far end of the Hunts Bay basin, the inner-city community of Seaview Gardens sits at the edge of the mangrove swamp. For decades, residents there lived with overflowing sewage systems, the result of a backflow that is caused when seawater enters outflow pipes, flooding the network and pushing waste water back into homes and the streets.

Flooding in coastal communities around Jamaica is nothing new but in recent years, what used to be unusual has become a frequent occurrence.

Coastal Zone Management Specialist Peter Wilson-Kelly has seen several areas of the island where the stories are the same.

“It’s a combination of incremental climate change factors like sea level rise, hurricane damage from which new shoreline position baselines have evolved and man-made influences, such as hard structures too close to the shore,” he said.

Heavy rains and high waves from Hurricane Ivan in 2004 battered coastal towns, marooned the Kingston's International Airport, destroyed several roads and bridges .- Jamaica Gleaner Photo.

Heavy rains and high waves from Hurricane Ivan in 2004 battered coastal towns, marooned the Kingston’s International Airport, destroyed several roads and bridges .- Jamaica Gleaner Photo.

In 2004, six people died when a storm surge pushed by Hurricane Ivan inundated Portland Cottage. And in East Kingston, several multi-million dollar homes along Caribbean Terrace, a residential community overlooking the sea, were destroyed when the hurricane pushed the sea inland.

High waves also destroyed the sand dunes, which prior to that time, had served as a natural fortification for the Palisadoes Road, which connects the historic town of Port Royal and the Norman Manley International Airport to the rest of the country.

The Caribbean has contributed very little to global climate change, but UN experts warn that small island nations like these are expected to bear the brunt of the damage. In Jamaica, the destruction of wetlands to make way for development projects and overfishing have reduced the effectiveness of the reefs, exposing the coastline to unchecked wave actions and undermined the effectiveness of the wetlands to limit the impact of high tides.

Wilson-Kelly also blames unchecked development for the problems at the Hellshire beach.

“The reef’s been damaged for some time and hurricanes Ivan, Dean, Sandy and a bunch of other systems have passed and influenced the shoreline. However, the numbers of facilities that have established themselves on the Hellshire beach have also increased,” he said.

According to a 2010 UNDP report, Modeling the Transformational Impacts Climate Change on the Caribbean, “Rising sea levels caused by climate change are set to cause billions of dollars in damage to the islands states and wipe out the best Caribbean tourist resorts by the middle of the century.”

It is the reason Caribbean countries like Jamaica are lobbying for a 1.5 degree Celsius cap on temperature rise above preindustrial levels at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in France, in December.

Scientists writing in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Synthesis Report (AR5) noted, “Climate change will amplify existing risks and create new risks for natural and human systems. Risks are unevenly distributed and are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities in countries at all levels of development.”

The Caribbean is reported to have lost 136 billion dollars due to damage from climate change between 1990 and 2008, due to climate related damage. In its 2010 Modeling report, the UNDP warned that without adaptation and mitigation, the Caribbean could lose five per cent of its GDP or 10.7 billion dollars by 2025. By 2050, that figure could more than double, rising to roughly 22 billion dollars by 2050 or about 10 per cent of GDP.

Coastal infrastructure are at risk. Kingston Wharves at Gordon Key lies inside the Kingston Harbour.

Coastal infrastructure are at risk. Kingston Wharves at Gordon Key lies inside the Kingston Harbour.

In 2011, Jamaica’s second communication to the UNFCCC projected that the cost of protecting tourist resorts in the most vulnerable areas could cost between 92.3 million dollars and 993.8 million dollars. Some reports are, that by 2080, the 15 CARICOM member states could face a staggering 187 billion dollars in repairs and rebuilding costs for some of their best tourist resorts.

The outlook is ominous, given Jamaica’s history of destructive storm surges and major incidents of floods in recent decades and resulting in damage to infrastructure and loss of life. Besides the unsanitary effects of flooded sewers, the value of social and economic assets exposed to the hazards associated with coastal flooding has been estimated at 18.6 billion dollars.

Economist Maurice Mason noted, “Everything up to 10 meters of Jamaica’s coast, all of the island’s critical facilities, including power generation facilities, trans-shipment ports, both major airports and resort towns” representing about 70 per cent of the country’s GDP are at risk.

Elevating four kilometers of the Palisadoes road just over three metres in 2010 cost Jamaica some 65 million dollars. Several mitigation projects later, Rocky Point continues to suffer coastal flooding.

In Portland Cottage, residents replanted denuded mangroves to strengthen their natural coastal fortifications that they credited with minimising the loss of lives in 2004.

Along the famous Negril beach, government and residents still haggle over the most effective way to protect the coast because none, neither government nor private sector, can afford the full cost of protection and the international community has provided only a fraction of the estimated 25 million dollars needed.

But as the experts contend, “Many adaptation and mitigation options can help address climate change, but no single option is sufficient by itself. “

Under Jamaica’s Vision 2030 Plan, many adaptation measures will, over time, mitigate some of the effects. Several communities have and do benefit, but only education, continued preparation and global action can manage the effects.

(End)

CAN JAMAICA MAKE UP FOR LOST GROUND IN CANNABIS RESEARCH FOLLOWING DECRIMINALISATION?

by Zadie Neufville

(This article was first published by Equal Times on Nov 3, 2015)
Following the partial decriminalisation of cannabis earlier this year, Jamaican scientists are harnessing more than 40 years of research in a bid to cash in on the lucrative global medical marijuana market.

Marijuana researchers on the Caribbean island of Jamaica are planning to develop new pharmaceutical products following the partial decriminalisation of cannabis. (AP/David McFadden)

Marijuana researchers on the Caribbean island of Jamaica are planning to develop new pharmaceutical products following the partial decriminalisation of cannabis. (AP/David McFadden)

As of April 2015, the possession of two ounces of marijuana, or less, is no longer an arrestable offence in Jamaica and the establishment of a Cannabis Licensing Authority is paving the way for the development of a set of rules and regulations to govern this burgeoning pharmaceutical industry, estimated to be worthUS$100 billion worldwide.

As a result, marijuana researchers on the island are hoping to develop new pharmaceutical products, almost four decades after several new medicines were developed and subsequently launched on the international market.

“We are not talking about smoking ganja (cannabis), we are looking to produce medicines that will help people,” Courtney Betty, Attorney at Law and head of Timeless Herbal Care Limited (THC), told Equal Times from his base in Canada.

Since 1972, Jamaican scientists at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Department of Pharmacology have studied the properties of cannabis, developing a number of pioneering products, including: Canasol, and later Cantivert, to treat glaucoma; Asmasol for asthma; and Canavert for motion sickness.

The products are successfully used in the Caribbean, Europe and Asia but remain illegal in the US because their active ingredient comes from cannabis sativa, one of three varieties of the cannabis plant.

“We (Jamaicans) were the pioneers in research of cannabis for commercial medical purposes in the 1970s, releasing Canasol in 1987,” said Dr Henry Lowe who owns several patents for medicinal products derived from cannabis and other local plants. His company, Medicanja, has already established state-of-the-art research facilities at UWI and will release several products next year, reviving the Cannabis Research Institute he and colleagues started in 2001.

Long overdue
It has been a long, slow walk to decriminalisation in Jamaica. Not long before researchers began exploring the beneficial properties of sensi weed, Jamaica’s most exalted strain of cannabis, the signing of the 1961 UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs criminalised the possession of ganja, which has been used as traditional medicine for generations in Jamaica.

Ganja plants being destroyed by security forces.

Ganja plants being destroyed by security forces.

A National Commission on Ganja was convened in September 2000. It noted evidence of the “therapeutic properties” of cannabis and concluded that “there is no doubt that ganja can have harmful effects, these do not warrant the criminalisation of thousands of Jamaicans for using it in ways and with beliefs that are deeply rooted in the culture of the people”.

The reforms, passed by parliament on 6 February 2015 on the birthday of the late reggae superstar Bob Marley, and ratified on 15 April 2015, were “long overdue” according to the country’s Justice Minister Mark Golding.

Subsequently, both UWI and the University of Technology (UTECH) have started their own cannabis projects. UWI has established Jamaica’s first legal cannabis plot, growing specific strains of the plant in a bid to identify DNA profiles of cannabis, to determine how various strains react with the human body and to identify best practises for growing cannabis, as well as to develop products in the treatment of various illnesses and diseases.

UTECH will collaborate with the Colorado-based US firm Ganja Labs [editor’s note: In January 2014, Colorado became the first place in the world to fully regulate the legal, recreational use of marijuana for adults] to research and experiment on new marijuana-based pharmaceuticals at a laboratory and greenhouse at their main campus in the capital city, Kingston.

With the new law allowing households to grow up to five plants, ordinary Jamaicans are looking to cash in, too. No longer will small amounts mean jail and a criminal record. And Rastafarians can freely use ganja for sacramental purposes for the first time since the founding of their movement in the 1930s.

For investors like Betty, a Jamaican-Canadian, the new law could “transform” the economy of this debt-ridden island, bringing prosperity to its 2.7 million-strong population: “Jamaica provides unlimited access to raw materials at a very good cost, and the knowledge. We believe this is a significant industry that has tremendous economic impact,” he said.

smokeing ganja
In September, Betty announced a US$100 million investment in Jamaica to develop medicinal cannabis products for the international market, some of which will hit the market this year.

Given its more than 40 years headstart, Jamaica could quickly exceed the earnings made by the state of Colorado, Betty told Equal Times. In 2014, Colorado earned US$700 million in marijuana sales from which the government took US$76 million in taxes and fees.

Lowe, who continues to seek new investors for Medicanja (which will announce its latest patents for nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals in November) noted that Jamaica could become the international hub for cannabis research.

“Jamaica is ahead of the world. This opens opportunity in the areas of healthcare, and the production of high quality products for a variety of complaints,” he said.