The Barbados economy has enormous potential, enough to catapult the island in to a genuine global middle economy on par with Iceland and the Nordic countries, if only we were to wake-up from a mind-set buried neck high in the old professions. Our great handicap is a lack of vision, creativity, sound business leadership, and a refusal by those in power to make way for more enterprising young people and those with ideas and initiative. The price we pay as a nation for this policy and entrepreneurial inertia is an unnecessarily high unemployment rate among young people, those in middle age holding on to public sector jobs for life, and those in or approaching retirement just looking back on a life that could have been.
One problem is that, as in our social and professional lives, collectively economically we have found ourselves in a comfort zone in which tourism, and addictive national and household borrowing, bring in just enough to keep food on the table and maintain a bogus lifestyle, so everything must be right with the world. In the meantime, our neighbouring islands, especially St Lucia, are catching up with us, as we are experiencing a slow, but steady decline in our living standards and overall progress.
Barbadians do what Barbadians have always been good at: they talk. Every Barbadian has the answer, no matter what the question; collectively they are always the biggest, brightest and best. Humility does not feature very high in our cultural values and, worse, if anyone of us has the temerity to suggest a roadmap out of our national malaise they person is headed for public humiliation.
Role of Government:
One problem is that there is no understanding, by either party, of the role of government in national development. There is a misguided Victorian view held by politicians and senior civil servants that government must be involved in every development to the stage of micro-management, and, similarly, by aspiring businesspeople that taxpayers must fund every nutcase idea and bogus business plan they have.
Few, if any at all, believe that the role of government is as referee, facilitator for enterprising individuals and companies to invest in legitimate businesses, with a social enterprise sector as a back drop. They fail to realise that government is about erecting regulatory fences to protect consumers against abuse, piracy, dishonesty and charlatanism. We know that governments of all colours have failed because they have not put sustainable policies in place: for example, the lack of a national land use and planning reforms, the ring-fencing of agricultural land, a national house-building programme, lack of education reforms, proper training for public sector workers, a viable national health care programme, labour market reforms – and these are just starters. All these and more are policy issues still crying out for reforms, while the government and its advisers argue over trivia.
We need sustainable growth led by the private sector, but assisted by government acting in the best interest of this and future generations of Barbadians. We need to diversify our dependence on the badly managed tourism and hotel industry and re-focus on manufacturing, starting with our only world-class product, rum. The rum sector should be given a ten-year programme to draw level with the Scotch Whiskey industry, both in terms of job-creation and in its contribution to GDP. Overall, we need to construct a more dynamic and competitive economy and a better skilled labour force. And finally, we urgently need to see radical and widespread improvements in the structure and governance of Caricom, or stopping the much-abused free movement of labour policy, which has led to a mad rush to the bottom.
One of the best signs of the collapse of Barbadian society is the decay of the environment, from the slow wipe out of early morning bird song (wood doves, ground doves, sparrows, black birds) to sea life (conch, flying fish, sea eggs, the Animal Flower Cave, etc) all of which have taken place in the full watch of a government which boasts of its green credentials. Monkey and mongoose habitats have been replace with cheap housing for the rising middle class, rushing to escape from the traditional communities in which they grew up.
Part of Barbadian entrepreneurial conservatism is that business leaders have settled in a comfort zone with no real rivals and none on the horizon.
They largely have consumers captured like prisoners and are happy keeping things that way. And the consumers are happy as long as they can get credit for the good and services they need to show off a lifestyle they cannot fund.
One industrial sector that has always made we wonder is the alcohol sector, dominated by Banks and the various cottage industry-type rum producers, with small rum shops locked in. Banks, the beer manufacturer, has been going for about fifty years now producing its lager-type beer which when drunk cold in the driving heat of the Caribbean is very popular with locals and tourists. Yet, over that period, Banks has not moved with any noticeable degree in to non-bottle offers, introducing can drinks only recently and draught to a limited distributional degree. Given this marketing and distributional inertia, there has not been any real local rival to Banks, apart from the Rachel Pringle Brewery, either with an introduction of other forms of local lager/beer or with other producers, given the low barrier to entry in the micro-brewery market.
In Britain, a basic £100000 (about Bds$300000) has set up an individual or group of investors in business. This is a sector crying our for competition. In 2011, Diageo, one of the world’s leading drink providers, had revenue of £10bn, with its portfolio which runs from Guinness to Veuve Clicquot Champagne, with a prediction of sales growth of about eight per cent. Diageo has now made a US$bn bid for tequila makers Jose Cuervo, to add to its Johnny Walker and Smirnoff brands. Last year Diageo had global sales of £14.6bn, £4.1bn of which were in the Americas, with Hispanics being responsible for 23 per cent of drinking age adults by 2030, an increase of 14 per cent from today’s numbers.
There is no suggestion that Banks, or any local drinks provider, could punch at that level immediately. Such a view would be preposterous. What I am suggesting is that a well thought out business plan could see a steady, if small, growing market share, leading eventually to being a significant middle market player. Banks, to take but one example, has two important marketing tricks up its sleeve: Barbadians and other Caribbean people living in Europe and North America, and the hundreds of thousands, may be millions, of tourists that have visited the island over the last fifty years. The barrier to the gin and vodka markets is also very low, also the beer market, a favourite drink with the British.
Analysis and Conclusion:
Caribbean farmers and food producers are failing to meet consumer demand, even in a global environment in which food prices are increasing by leaps and bounds, and constitute a growing percentage of households’ disposable incomes. This is partly the result of a fractured marketing strategy on the part of the marketing boards, the farmers’ organisations and governments. It is also a result of a mental state, of a ruling business and political elite that sees agriculture and food production as the preoccupation of the lower classes, the semi and unskilled, of those without professional qualifications. And, most importantly, of consumers unaware of their power to force supermarkets and stores to stock what they want at prices they can afford.
We have the ridiculous situation in Barbados where an Oistin’s supermarket can stock carrots from Canada (just think of the air miles), keeping Canadian farmers in work while a local St Lucy farmer has been finding it difficult to get rid of his produce. Yet, people continue to flock in and buy those carrots. Banks has the space and the capacity, and can make inroads on the Caribbean sales of Carib, Piton and other regional beers, but they are not the only weak and inward-looking local businesses. Even though the government and business sector recently despatched Minister Kellman to Britain as a super-salesman for Banks, he could not really tell the wood from the trees.
There is a reasonable market for these produce in the UK, alone, farless North America. Britain’s West Indian population has considerable buying power, despite the popular perceptions, and over the years have shown persistent cultural and social sustainability which makes them a dynamic market for Caribbean producers. It has its own consumption patterns, which differ remarkably from the host community. And with house prices in Britain averaging about £122000, and in London and the South East about £350000, the older West Indian population in particular, who have largely paid off their mortgages, have reasonable assets (About 25 per cent of the London population was born outside Britain).
The failure to exploit this market is on the supply side, since the demand is there and growing. The returns are also high: an ordinary lime costs 30p in a British supermarket, about Bds$1; bananas, the most popular fruit in the British shopping basket, often are products of the American-owned farms in Central and South America, (Banacol, Chiquita, JnF Fox & Sons, Hoya, and others), all remarkable for the massive size and lack of taste. But few Caribbean bananas, sweeter and smaller, are seen in the shops, produce from islands such as Grenada, Dominica, St Lucia, Jamaica, and others. Sweet potatoes, yams, eddoes, coconuts, even sugar canes are now sold in big chain supermarkets or Asian-owned stores. This is a crisis on the marketing since the big supermarkets such as Sainsbury, Morrison’s, Tesco’s, and others would not have stocked those products if the demand was not there. One way of tackling this supply problem would be through the regional auspices of Caricom, which this moribund body as presently constituted is incapable of doing.
In the meantime, we hold our heads in our hands and plead with international funding bodies to give us another loan.
The kind of heady conversation we should be having given the challenges of these times. Sadly we have had to satisfy ourselves with the vacuous coming from our professed leaders/pseudo intellectuals..
Great piece Mr. Austin. However, until we radically reform/overhaul our education system, we will remain in quicksand. If the production plant is malfunctioning , the product would be flawed. We are producing citizens who would have fitted very well into a 70s 80s socio- economic environment. We are at least 30/40n years behind in national development planning. As you said: “Our great handicap is a lack of vision, creativity, sound business leadership, and a refusal by those in power to make way for more enterprising young people and those with ideas and initiative.”
That’s what we apparently produce.
In the ‘environmental’ paragraph don’t forget the the bees have gone MIA as well!
@ Hal Austin:
“They fail to realise that government is about erecting regulatory fences to protect consumers against abuse, piracy, dishonesty and charlatanism. We know that governments of all colours have failed because they have not put sustainable policies in place…… ”
Well read, Hal! An excellent article that provides some pointers that MUST be followed if we are to come to grips with the on-going adjustments in the new economic order.
We must accept that the old ways of doing business in Barbados are old hat and there is no return to the good old halcyon days of government ownership and subsidies. The government must divest itself of the many non-public goods oriented entities with its role primarily that identified in the quote above. A number of entities ripe for divestment have already been identified along with a restructured fee paying model for University education.
Many of the points raised by you have attracted the attention and discussion of few enlightened ones on BU.
BAFBFP for sure has been calling for a long time now for many of the changes you are trumpeting. You forgot to tell them that the lowly breadfruit is sold in London at around £1.25 per pound (Lb) in weight while here in Bim they drop from the trees to rot. Captain Bligh must be experiencing another mutiny in that other place in a fight to change his name to “Blight”.
@Ac: Please don’t come with any nonsense about the BLP had14 years to bring about these changes. Let us look forward and not backward. This is a more pressing set of challenges that would determine whether we sink or swim. Contribute something meaningful to the debate.
The opportunity is here for the government to aggressively pilot alternative energy. The government owns a fleet vehicles e.g. Transport Board, vehicles owned by statutory corporations etc. Here is an opportunity to be creative. Here is an opportunity to lead. Here is an opportunity to demonstrate leadership.
UWI has a new MSc in Renewable Energy Management to go with the two undergraduate programs they had previously (ERSC2004 Renewable Energy Sources and PHYS3107 Fundamentals of Photovoltaic Physics), along with three new undergraduate courses: BIOL2050 Sustainability & Land Use, BIOL2055 Bio processing & Tropical Energy and ERSC3910 Sustainable Energy Research Internship. They where working towards this since 2009 I think.
There is also BIOL3900 Interdisciplinary Project, which addresses topics that address real-world problems related to food, nutrition or energy at the local, regional or international level according to the 2012-2013 handbooks.
That should be to go with the two undergraduate courses, not programs, in my post above.
Since this is an “Intellectual thread” I apologise for my layman’s theory.
It makes no sense to grow fruit and vegetables for export. You have 500,000 people a year to feed.Stop importing food for local consumption.
We need leadership in Agriculture.
If you can find a niche market high value crop it might be worth it (Blue mountain coffee is an example for Jamaica).
Barbados continues to import expensive gasoline engine vehicles. Why.
I await the great ideas from the “leaders on BU”. Surely we can pause from the political party warfare to contribute to this very important discussion.
Don’t you think tourists would love local juices instead of Jubilee in the can?
hants It makes no sense to grow fruit and vegetables for export. You have 500,000 people a year to feed.Stop importing food for local consumption.
We need leadership in Agriculture.
the argument being that locally grown foods cost more to produce and market.
Don’t you think tourist would love local juices instead of Jubilee in the can?
it would be interesting to know how much of our locally produce foods are frequently used or incorporated in the menus and placed on the menu list or as appetizers or samplings for international guest to try.
@ David | August 31, 2012 at 2:26 PM |
“The government owns a fleet vehicles e.g. Transport Board, vehicles owned by statutory corporations etc. ”
A very important point highlighted that could be built into the ‘transfer of ownership and operation’ contracts when the divestment plans kick in next year. These contracts and regulatory framework should reflect government’s much bragged about green credentials. Buses would be given a 5 year period to completely convert to alternative (hybrid) fuels with all new acquisitions from overseas hybrid.
Do you think the technology exists where the top of the buses can be used as solar panels to generate electricity to contribute to the air conditioning of the inside coach?
ac wrote “the argument being that locally grown foods cost more to produce and market.”
That is because Barbados has multiple “middle men” between the farmer and the consumer.
Example. There are people who buy produce from farmers and sell it to another person who then sells it to a Hotel,restaurant or supermarket.
Locally grown food needs to be effectively marketed and distributed. The Ministry of Agriculture should study the Ontario food terminal methodology.
David I allowed for Tourists in my 500,000 people. I know there are 280,000 Bajans. Not only would the tourists like local juices but they would gladly pay for fresh organically grown food.
“One problem is that, as in our social and professional lives, collectively economically we have found ourselves in a comfort zone in which tourism, and addictive national and household borrowing, bring in just enough to keep food on the table and maintain a bogus lifestyle, so everything must be right with the world”
On analysis,this would appear to be the case but can we blame those who seek to avoid the cares of the world in this short lifespan that is ordained for us? when you realistically assess the situation about what is important or unimportant in making our lives better as we seeit and not in the eyes of others; do you suugeest we go down the road of scarifice, scacrific, sacrifice when none of us know what tomorrow might bring? my commment is not intended to be a definitive position, just thrown into the mix for debate.
with respect to St Lucia catching up with usis like expecting Barbados to win a gold medal in the Olympics in the foreseeable future. The St Lucia i last visited has indeed made some progress but the kind which haslon since been passed by Barbados.Not in my lifetime
I know Hal means well, but as a journalist he needs to do his research to broaden his analysis. Did trademark issues not prevent the export of Banks beers in the past and led to the production of a another beer for the export market that flopped for obvious reasons.?
“One of the best signs of the collapse of Barbadian society is the decay of the environment, from the slow wipe out of early morning bird song (wood doves, ground doves, sparrows, black birds) to sea life (conch, flying fish, sea eggs, the Animal Flower Cave, etc) all of which have taken place in the full watch of a government which boasts of its green credentials. Monkey and mongoose habitats have been replace with cheap housing for the rising middle class, rushing to escape from the traditional communities in which they grew up.”
Really Hal? If you promote everyone owning piece of the rock where are they to buy and build houses….in the air? This attempt to protect the ‘green belt’ as practiced in your neck of the woods has been often cited (OECD etc) as a main cause of high house prices and a shortage of housing in London. So if you want land prices in Buhbaduss to climb even higher go ahead and confine the middle class to live where they grew up.
Anyway, this is another situation that could be addressed through a fully functioning CSME. All yuh just do’t grasp the full potential of the idea of CSME….time to start thinking spatially.
recently i read where i think it was one of american leading fast food restaurants chain wanted to open a restaurant in one of the carribbean islands and the gvt said that on the the understanding that one or more of the locally grown foods would be used it think the ingrdeient was onions.i recently contacted a well watched program called “top chef” to see if they would do a series on carribbean cookind using some of our leading carribbean “top chef” a goodmarketing and promo. for locally grown foods
As usual Hal, you write articles on what is already known. Nothing new here even though the points are good and valid.
We can sum up the problem with one question….Who is the charismatic leader that will “get it” and implement the radical ideas needed to reform our eductation system, national development policy and government bureaucracy?
This is our biggest problem. Our “Doctor/Lawyer” leaders just do not not know how to make anything, or implement real ideas. Only only quote dead authors.
So, your ideas and everyone elses will remain on the shelf because sadly, we have no one who “gets it” and will EXECUTE what needs to be done.
18 comments in 2 days on this post.
Where are all the BU brainiacs?
duh musse gone to a political ass meetins
BU commentary mirrors the reality, we have misplaced priorities.
I think you all must be aware that there are big differences in how each country manages the importation of goods.
To build a sustainable export sector requires a lot of planning and contract negotiation with the distributors in other countries.
There is also competition with South America.
Almost every fruit,vegetable or ground provision is imported to Toronto and other Canadian cities from South America.
Banks beer is brewed in Canada under license ( taste is not as good as Barbados brewed banks). Why.
Every year I buy Barbados rum from the LCBO store to give to Canadian friends and Business associates.
Mount Gay is the only Barbados rum sold in Ontario. Why.
Hal Austin wrote, “Our great handicap is a lack of vision, creativity, sound business leadership, and a refusal by those in power to make way for more enterprising young people and those with ideas and initiative.”
Given that you can’t make private citizens invest, Government would have to create a National development and Investment fund to give funding and loans to “enterprising young people and those with ideas and initiative.”
but de guvment brek. In plenty we squandered an now in need we brek.
David as a true Bajan I understand that once we hear the word Election the focus shifts to visions of a slice of the calf (that used to be fatted but is now bones and grisle.
I will continue to try to instigate and agitate. Bushie gine soon jump in.
A big issue for Barbados is that we have to import food for the foreseeable future therefore it seems ludicrous that we have not been able to find a work around for the labeling problem for goods originating from S American countries.
i came here to open a tourist oriented business and the very get go
it was like trying to fly.every government department is so don’t care and
slow it ruined it from the start.for example ncc.only their friends or big monopolies or payola have say in barbados.
barbados is a monopoly.period /full stop
it can not be changed ever–too little too late.
barbados is going to fall.
long story short– the harassment of tourist.-jet skies–selling jewelery made in India as bajan…bad service.. poor sanitation.
fact is we need to loose about 100,000 people to have any change.
lewd behavior and loud talking .all inspired by men that you all honor as cultural ambassadors and designers of our culture have caused this.
and you all follow like sheep.
respectable people don’t like lewd drunkenness.which is what barbados at night even during the day.that is why the low class drunken English love it
don’t you all get it .
you people of authority in barbados have ruined barbados FOREVER.
infrastructure should have been first ,not foreign chefs.and foreign every thing.
it is done you now have a world wide reputation as a dirty,rip off place.
and there are much more beautiful and CLEAN places to visit.
thousands of them.
wunna done it to wunna selves.it is UN repairable.
best look back to growing cotton.
Harry C is p*ssed by his experience of getting a business going. I know, I’ve been there & agree.
When Hal Austin says “Our great handicap is a lack of vision, creativity, sound business leadership, and a refusal by those in power to make way for more enterprising young people and those with ideas and initiative”, he’s not kidding.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the GoB considers entrepreneurs as:
– deviants trying to set up tax-avoiding schemes
– a threat to their patch
– rocking the comfortable Bajan boat
– an opportunity to boost the ministerial ego
– an opportunity to get some freebies
Or maybe all the above. And more beside. Either way, entrepreneurs are dealt with harshly. If you plan to start a business that might just employ your fellow Barbadians & help yourself & the economy, you can expect:
– Civil servants (‘business development officers’) who don’t have any understanding of real-world business.
– Complex, arcane and irrelevant procedures. Good luck if your officer is away and someone else dealing with it ‘coz the procedure done change. If the government changes then expect to start all over again.
– No replies when you call or write. Little point leaving a voicemail. Just don’t expect email or anything fancy like that.
– Long, inexplicable delays when you need anything. Really long, like years.
I realise this may be becoming a rant, but I want to make one serious point.
By repeatedly saying that they support and encourage entrepreneurship, and that the hope of our nation’s future rests largely with them, our leaders are raising the expectation that young people can use their flair & energy to build a better life for themselves. Then to dash those expectations on the GoB altars of bureaucracy and inaction will lead to disillusioned youngsters who will get up to no good in order to satisfy their raised expectations. Which is in no was an excuse for a life of crime, but it seems to be the way things are going.
The first time I spot a leader of any party that might do something to realise Hal’s vision that “The Barbados economy has enormous potential, enough to catapult the island in to a genuine global middle economy on par with Iceland and the Nordic countries, if only we were to wake-up from a mind-set buried neck high in the old professions.” they will get my vote. But I have to live in hope.
Chattel…..I am with you……waiting on this great visionary leader cast my vote….Freundal vs Owen/Mia……Good GOD help us!