The world’s forests are under pressure. From California’s redwoods to the Amazon rainforest of Brazil to Jamaica’s dry limestone forest and swamp forest, the impact of human depredation and climate change is huge and growing.

The UN Food & Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) International Day of Forests 2017 (March 21) the theme “Forests and Energy.” The Forestry Department of Jamaica’s annual Forest Trek will take place in the Gourie Forest Reserve in Manchester this year. The Chief Technical Director of the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ), Allison Rangolan McFarlane, is looking forward to it.

“Forest Trek is an incredible opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, explore or rediscover Jamaica, exercise, and enjoy the amazing scenery with friends… I start the following week feeling refreshed and re-energized!  It doesn’t get much better than that for me,” enthuses Rangolan McFarlane.

The EFJ, formed through a debt swap with the U.S. Government in 1993 under the Enterprise of the Americas Initiative, has funded over J$332.5 million in 42 projects involving reforestation and agroforestry activities island-wide. Working closely with communities, these projects have helped protect Jamaica’s watersheds and forest reserves, while training rural residents and farmers in conservation techniques. The EFJ-funded activities in the Blue Mountains, the Rio Grande Valley and other parts of the island were aimed at increasing forest cover and promoting agroforestry among farmers. In some cases, forested areas had been damaged by hurricanes and in others through the destruction of forest for agriculture. This had resulted in soil erosion and frequent landslides on sloping land and a reduction in water availability. With EFJ funding farmers and residents were trained in soil and water conservation, best agricultural practices in hilly areas, watershed management and forest awareness in general. Capacity building for rural residents is of particular importance in enhancing the sustainability of projects so that they can cope with natural disasters and the rigors of climate change – and “stand on their own feet.”

So what does this year’s theme mean for Jamaica? Forests are a natural storehouse for water and carbon, two key elements in energy. Water will feed hydro-electric power. Forests and plants are also “carbon sinks,” absorbing more carbon than they produce and helping in the climate change struggle.

Let’s show more appreciation for our forests. They are a valuable resource.