We in the Virgin Islands have been talking a lot about diversifying our economy. We have spoken about diversifying our financial services pillar and enhancing and diversifying our tourism pillar. Can we agree that our two main pillars are very fragile?
For some time now, our financial services industry has come under attack from members of the international community, and our tourism industry is still recovering from our national disaster. From my personal discussions and from those I have observed in the traditional media and social media, we have all concluded that we not only need to strengthen our two main economic pillars, but we also need a third economic pillar.
I am convinced by the data already gathered by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour that our third economic pillar can be and must be food production. This is not an overnight fix. However, with the proper investment and strategic plan, this is an achievable goal. The achievement of this goal is essential to the continuing development of our territory; essential to the maintenance of our standard of living and our quality of life; and essential to our national and personal security.
Upon observation, you will notice that our two main economic pillars are spearheaded, advanced and protected by statutory bodies — the Financial Services Commission and the BVI Tourist Board. Food production as an economic pillar will require no less.
The research already gathered by the NRL Ministry shows that within our 200 miles of ocean off of our north-eastern shores and the migratory patterns of the fish that live in and traverse these waters, a fisheries industry as an economic pillar is attainable and sustainable with proper stock management.
Just as with the statutory bodies managing our two existing economic pillars, so too it must be with a statutory body managing our food production economic pillar. We will have to make a financial investment through the subvention process while a public-private partnership is developed.
A food production statutory body should take the following steps.
- Establish outlets in East End, Road Town and West End on Tortola, and on Virgin Gorda, Anegada and Jost Van Dyke.
- Provide continuous research and monitoring of our food production stocks — farming and fishing — to guarantee sustainability.
- Assist ground-provision and livestock farmers with a water supply and land as needed, and assist fishers and farmers with technical support and business management support.
- Partner with the National Bank of the VI to provide low interest loans to the farmers and fishers to build and expand their capacity.
- Monitor progress and assist with the development of the industries as needed.
- Purchase with immediate payment of an agreed upon price all the fish, farm produce and livestock from the farmers and fishers.
- Process, package, market and distribute all of the food produced.
- Allow for and monitor private investment in the statutory body and industry.
- Assist farmers and fishers with attaining institutional and individual private direct investment to ensure capacity building and industry development and growth.
This is a skeleton of a food production strategic plan for the development of a third economic pillar. There has to be a national consultation process that will add more flesh to its bones, so to speak: a process that includes all of us, particularly our farmers and fishers. Is this a workable plan for an important and achievable goal?
The vision of this plan is a Virgin Islands producing food for its national security and economic growth and development. Our mission is to produce enough food for our national consumption and to eventually export food to bring additional income to our territory.
The research already done by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Labour shows that we can become self-sustainable in food production. The research shows that we have enough fishing stock that is sustainable for a fisheries industry. All we have to do is develop the capacity to bring it to market. This can be done through the organisational flexibility of a statutory body. With the immediate regular payment of our food producers, they will be able to better plan for their expansion and have easier access to financing and capital investment from private institutions and individuals. Just imagine the growth to the industry when non-fishers with money to invest receive higher returns on their investment than from banks. With increased investment will come increased production and spin-off entrepreneurship and job opportunities. More of our money for food imports will circulate in our economy.
Our 2017 total annual food import figure from the Central Statistics Office was $26,640,000. CSO numbers suggest that the figure for the foods we will be able to produce in the territory — meats, poultry, fish, vegetables, fruits, bakery products, dairy and eggs — totals $14,665,000. This money circulating in our economy annually would have a tremendous multiplier effect, and our exports would generate additional revenue in our overall economy and our treasury.
Currently, revenue from our financial services industry is approximately 55 percent of our national budget, tourism is approximately 35 percent, and other industries make up approximately 10 percent. Each of these industries had to grow to their current economic positions. So too will our food production industry. When the income from this industry grows to approximately 30 percent of our national budget, we would have created a third economic pillar.
Can this be done? Is this an achievable vision? What are your thoughts? Make your revisions.
– CROMWELL “EDJU EN KA” SMITH