As part of our ‘bamboo heroes’ series, we are presenting a profile of The Hon. Sharon Ffolkes Abrahams, lawyer, MP, former government minister and INBAR trustee, about her work with INBAR, the Caribbean Bamboo Symposium 2018 and the future of bamboo in the Caribbean.
In Sharon Ffolkes Abrahams’ native Jamaica, bamboo grows by the wayside, and as a young girl, she would observe local people collecting bamboo culms and using them to make drums to play as musical instruments. She remembers that roadside stalls would sell carvings and souvenirs for tourists made of bamboo.
After a successful career as a lawyer, pastor and educator, she became a Member of Parliament for the Jamaican Constituency of St James West Central, representing the People’s National Party. She eventually rose to the position of State Minister for Industry, Investment and Commerce, which she held between 2012 and 2016. In this role, she proudly represented the country’s trade interests – so the responsibility fell to her to consider the country’s bamboo resources, and how they could be exploited to meet some of the country’s current challenges.
Among these challenges, poverty alleviation is key in Jamaica, where the poverty rate was at 17.1% for 2016, according to the World Bank, and where there still exists extreme pockets of rural poverty. She quickly found that when considering how to increase livelihoods and provide sustainable jobs, ‘bamboo’ came up again and again.
“When bamboo fell into my portfolio as Minister of State in Industry Investment and Commerce, I was first interested in its capability to increase earnings in some of Jamaica’s poorest areas – we have so much bamboo, but we aren’t doing enough with it!”
Remembering those locally made handicrafts from her youth and comparing the current market for tourist souvenirs, now dominated by imported products, she sees an opportunity. There is huge potential in Jamaica to create a new bamboo industry. Ms. Ffolkes Abrahams’ work with INBAR and with local stakeholders on the ground has made her an important player in this field.
She became part of INBAR’s board of trustees back in 2014. As the only representative on the board for the Caribbean region, she represents the area in high-level discussions about INBAR’s governance, and of course her training as a lawyer comes in useful when steering decisions.
In the run-up to the Caribbean Bamboo Symposium on 27-28 November, organized by INBAR’s Latin American and Caribbean office, Ms. Ffolkes Abrahams got even more involved with INBAR. The Symposium, held in Kingston, represents a great chance for the Jamaican bamboo industry to flourish – and Ms. Ffolkes Abrahams is only too aware that there are plenty of amazing initiatives going on.
“The range of innovations in incredible – we have traditional industries like bamboo furniture and bamboo charcoal, but did you know we have someone making bamboo ketchup?” she says proudly.
The Caribbean Bamboo Symposium was attended by a wide range of stakeholders, from local business people to politicians and ministers and even Miss Intercontinental Jamaica Kayla Smith.
“We had talented people at the symposium showcasing great products, locally made handicrafts, and even using bamboo in construction. Meanwhile, we also talked about our work with ecosystem services – things like reforestation with bamboo of our land that has been degraded by bauxite mining, which has had great results. ”
Through her work with INBAR, her support of the Caribbean Bamboo Symposium and her continued work supporting Jamaican businesspeople, Hon. Sharon Ffolkes Abrahams is a champion for bamboo in the Caribbean and all over the world.
To read more about the INBAR board of trustees, click here.