I recently took the opportunity of visiting Jamaica after an absence of nearly 33 years to check on the Resaerch Centre and Banana Breeding Station, Bodles, where I grew up and that my cousin Reynold Gonsalves (Ren) managed from 1952 until his untimely death in 2001.
I was shocked to see our once beautifully kept home overgrown and infested with rats since no one had lived there for some time.
The research centre too was now completely dilapidated and even the great house where the Honourable Dr Thomas P. Lecky once lived looked more like a scene from war-torn Iraq than the famous home of the father of Jamaica’s cattle industry.
The few men still left working the banana fields seemed permanently at lunch, probably because they are now in their 70’s and 80’s, and the whole place was largely deserted. No young men want to work in the banana fields any more. They prefer (hopefully) to finish school and get a clerical job…or…well, we know the path some others end up taking.
Once the property of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (usually referred to simply as Kew Gardens); the quiet splendour of the Banana Breeding Station is still very much apparent. However, it seems a crime greater than those Jamaican drug dons might commit to let it go to waste in this way.
In fact, the Banana Breeding Station, Bodles, should be made a national heritage site offering paid tours to those who want to know the history of banana and cattle production in Jamaica and throughout Central and South America.
Who would know for example that this little plot of land in the heart of Saint Catherine, Jamaica, was once home to the first examples of genetically bred cattle anywhere in the world?
Or that Ren Gonsalves was partly responsible for cultivating new breeds of bananas resistant to the pathogens most responsible for their near demise in the major producing areas of the world?
Lest we forget, national treasures are hard to come by in Jamaica these days, since those people with the most vision usually end up leaving the country. It is such a terrible shame. Reynold Gonsalves must be turning in his grave.
In memory of Reynold Augustine Gonsalves, born Havana, Cuba, November 4, 1928; died Kingston, Jamaica, February 15, 2001.