A long-term strategy to awaken the economy
Freedom Speaks Column: "The economy was already declining but the new coronavirus is making it worse- Part 6
We have emphasized that the economy of Dominica was already weak and declining prior to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the last article we discussed the need for a rapid relief package as an aspect of minimizing the social pain that will immediately result from the COVID-19 pandemic and to minimize the unravelling of what remains of the economy. In this article, we will discuss the resetting of the economy - a longer-term strategy towards awakening our economy. This is not per se a stimulus package towards resuscitation the economy in the aftermath of the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as, the truth be told, there is not much to resuscitate. But certainly, the occasion of the COVID-19 pandemic provides a compelling action point to reset the economy as the little life that was remaining in the economy of Dominica is being snuffed out by the COVID pandemic and there are potentially new trends, realities and opportunities that need to be incorporated into our economic planning.
Agriculture and Agro-processing
An opportunity for resetting the economy is in the area of agriculture and agro-processing. Three inter-related pillars should be considered in that regard. The first pillar relates to improving food security. This could include consideration for improving the local availability of chicken – a major source of protein consumed by residents. But there is also need to reduce risk in the production chain of chicken eggs (in which Dominica is already self-sufficient) and chicken broilers. This means that strategies should be launched to encourage the production of chicks, hatching eggs and feed on island. Moreover, as the scale of production of chicken broiler is increased and with appropriate supporting strategies, its price will decline and the nation will increasingly be able to reduce its huge chicken import bill in addition to obtaining the desired food security benefit. Some, protection of the local poultry industry may be necessary for food security reasons, but this must be managed carefully to allow the industry to attain optimal productivity. An approach could be the promotion of a healthy and fresh chicken segment with minimal protection. Strategies to encourage healthy eating should be launched with the expectation that in time consumers will gravitate more towards the healthier and fresher option notwithstanding a price differential.
Our country produces adequate vegetables, ground provisions, tropical fruits and tree crops for local consumption. Efforts to encourage these should be continued, but such efforts would be more sustainable if our country sought to export some of these products and engage in value added production in order to extend availability of products on the local and export market beyond the seasonal availability. Some crops may be excellent to be grown for food security purposes and at the same time they may present excellent opportunities for export as fresh or processed products. One such crop may be sweet potatoes which is regarded as a supper food - foods with exceptional or very high nutritional value.
The second pillar for resetting the agriculture sector relates to taking advantage of the heightened global health awareness in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Being in good health and having a strong immune system has been emphasized as important for individuals to overcome COVID-19 infections. There was already a global trend towards healthy eating and many foods have been identified as superfoods many of which Dominica currently produces including sweet potato, avocado and ginger. Eating organic foods is also part of the healthy eating trend. The COVID-19 pandemic has served to heighten that global trend and efforts should be made by Dominica to tap that trend.
Nature Island of the World
The third pillar for resetting agriculture is the repositioning of agriculture in the context of the big idea – promoting Dominica as the nature island of the world. This means differentiating Dominica's products based on the island naturalness. But to do so sustainably would be well served by aligning the way we live with the image that we wish to promote. This must be increasingly supported by the proof, to include that related to longevity/life expectancy. With respect to the agriculture sector, aligning to the big idea requires migrating towards organic production and targeting appropriate markets. Given our small size, the big idea allows us to compete globally by differentiating our products rather that to compete based on scale.
A stimulus package for agriculture must essentially not be about providing hand-out to farmers, but rather about obtaining the resources to adequately pursue the three-pillar strategy. Such a strategy require resources for: product research; providing technical assistance to those with demonstrated promising efforts; organizing efforts and encouraging cooperation among farmers, exporter and processors; undertaking market research; accessing markets; providing agronomic support to farmers, exporters and processors; raising standards and certifying production; facilitation transportation to export markets; encouraging the participation of young people, providing financing opportunities to include loans, export credit and venture capital.
We will continue the discussion next week where will focus on the tourism industry.
(By Kent Vital, Political Leader, Dominica Freedom Party)