President of the Dominica Business Forum, Severin McKenzie
President of the Dominica Business Forum, Severin McKenzie

The Dominica Manufacturers Association salutes the people of the Commonwealth of Dominica on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of political independence. Historically, manufacturing has played an important role in the economic development of Dominica and there is evidence to prove the tenacity of our forefathers in making the manufacturing process possible in the midst of the most deplorable conditions ever imagined.

The Dominican landscaped is littered with the ruins of sugar mills, rum distilleries, pulpers for cocoa and coffee and in more recent times the facilities that were destroyed by Hurricane Maria. Without motor vehicles and equipment to assist and with only foot paths, our forefathers constructed and installed the required machinery. Centuries later people still wonder how on earth did human beings maneuver these humongous water wheels and other machinery and had them installed and operational in the interior of rugged Dominica. Even today the construction of the tall chimneys is a challenge to our contemporaneous builders who are scared to death to construct simple high-pitched residential roofs, far less to dare attempt those chimneys.

The remnants of our history should be an inspiration for our millennial generation to create some level of interest in the manufacturing sector and to realize that we have the capacity to manufacture stuff for our own consumption and for export, especially at a time when manufacturing has been made very simple in the wake of new technologies which no longer produce smoke and other pollutants of the environment. Manufacturing has evolved from the extractors of raw materials being responsible for the entire manufacturing process up to the consumer, to specialized industries where each player is restricted to their specific segment of production. Simply put the manufacturers at the end of the chain who are responsible for the final branding and packaging of products simply import semi-processed raw materials.

Without being pessimistic or negative at a time when the nation celebrates its fortieth birthday with endless entertainment and reveling, there is another reality that confronts us as a nation, the fact that we import almost 100% of everything we consume, with the exception of the stuff that we buy at the Roseau Market, should be of concern to us as a people. One is left to wonder whether there is a basic understanding on the part of the authorities and the population that everything that is imported into Dominica is either manufactured or produced by the people of foreign lands. So we import water, prefabricated concrete, banana chips, herbs, and many other products that are in abundance in the nature isle. It appears that very soon, with the legalization of marijuana globally, we will soon be importing the herb, even if we have the conditions to cultivate and brand the best herb on the international market.

In the early years of nationhood some of our industrialists such as Phillip Nassief of Dominica Coconut Products Ltd. JAS Garraway Tobacco Factory, Ninian Marie of Harris Paints, P.W. Bellot of Bello products, P.H. Williams among others, played a pivotal role in the development of manufacturing sector. Nothing brought more pride to Dominicans than to be in an international hotel to be greeted with Refresh Soap in the bath room. Nothing instills more pride in a people than to take ownership of something that was made in their country, particularly when this product is unique.

In recent times the Dominica Manufacturers Association, without any resources, has played an important role in the development and to reignite interest in the manufacturing sector in Dominica. The establishment of the Buy Dominica Supercenter saw the emergence of numerous cottage industries and a wide variety of products, particularly the various brands of virgin coconut oil. Out of an initiative with Junior Achievers the winners of the Make Something To Sell are now enjoying a successful instant chocolate enterprise. When Hurricane Maria struck the DMA was in discussions with the relevant authorities to establish a sales outlet in Guadeloupe dedicated to the sale of Dominican products; a model that could be replicated in cities around the world with concentration of Dominican nationals.

As we observe the fortieth anniversary of political independence the DMA is saddened by the fact that the manufacturing sector is in a worse state than it was at the end of colonial status in 1979. Whereas much emphasis is placed on other sectors of the economy, our nation must be guided by the fact that the demand for food and manufactured products is insatiable, hence our people will be forever dependent on agriculture and manufacturing, the decision will always be whether we will develop the necessary infrastructure to advance these two critical sectors of the economy or whether we will depend on others to do it and become perpetual importers.

The next decade will be critical for manufacturing in Dominica, when we celebrate our Golden Jubilee, will there be a qualitative and quantitative improvement to Dominica's unsustainable trade imbalance? Let's pray that good sense will prevail for the need to recognize the significance of manufacturing to our economy and wish the people of the Commonwealth God's blessings as we step into the next phase as a sovereign nation.

Happy 40th Birthday Dominica!

Severin McKenzie, (President, DMA)