The COVID-19 pandemic has been an inordinately large economic shock that is ravaging economies large and small. What was initially a health issue has evolved into a major economic challenge. This situation, however, underscores the need for larger buffers to safeguard sovereign economies against vulnerability to large shocks that may be caused by climatic events, pandemics such as this or crises that undermine global stability.
As Barbados and many other Caribbean countries seek to rebound from this crisis, we have to facilitate increased public and private sector investment that enables people to work in new ways, create opportunities and enable new industries where we diversify outside of tourism.
With the pandemic at work, here are questions we must answer as a country:
- How can we retain employment through the COVID period?
- How do we prepare ourselves for the future?
- How can we position ourselves to be a world leader in a number of categories?
There are a number of paths for Barbados and the region to grow, but one definite and positive path would be to make investments that help reduce our dependence on imports and that pave the way to self-sustainability and new industry growth. We should also make investments that help leapfrog us into the future. If these opportunities are optimized during this time they will be a catalyst for our transformation as opposed to having another set of circular discussions that remain as only thoughts.
Renewable Energy and Its Sustainability
We have started on the right path of focusing on renewable energy sources, such solar energy generation to reduce our energy dependence. Employing a model similar to SolarCity (solarcity.com) to work with homeowners or locally cane owners for a win-win benefit would be a huge development for Barbados. Not only would this help to make us energy independent but in the short term, it would provide much-needed employment to workers who may otherwise be laid off. Commendably, Williams Solar (williamssolar.com) is making great strides in this regard.
By leveraging technology, we can enhance crop yields, reduce pests and sustainably produce superior crops with less wastage than traditional farming. Containerised, and computerized farming enhances consistency in crop production resulting in crops that are often healthier than traditional farming. Better said, containerized farming can yield 10x or more than traditional farming while reducing water usage/ wastage by up to 97%. With its significant reduction in crop losses, it is a natural evolution for our farmers and an industry that is ripe for development.
Water Security & Recycling
Imagine houses and communities where the majority of all of the water used is recycled. Barbados has often been dubbed a water-scarce country and here is an opportunity to implement water recycling technologies that could significantly reduce the impact of changing climates. With slight augmentation to the piping system, we could take our used water (greywater), process it, and reuse it for other productive purposes. A system could be created, where we allow used water to be piped and used for commercial farming if this were the desire of the municipality. ECOHesion (ecohesion.bb) is making strides in this direction and they currently treat and recycle water for major locations around the island.
Technology Retooling of our Workforce & Attracting Tech-Nomads
We have many incredibly smart, technology-savvy nationals on the island and there are hundreds and thousands of others who would be interested in retooling and updating their skills in this new digital age. We should be building digital businesses that allow us to create value and wealth from Barbados while selling to the world. This would also attract tech-nomads from around the world to build their lives, share their knowledge, and contribute to the growth of the island and region. One of our biggest assets in the Caribbean is our human resource and we need to capture this potential for present and future generations. Peter Thompson of TEN Habitat wrote a fantastic article about his here.
Simplifying Imports and customs duties
A major drag on our country’s productivity is the length of time and number of steps that importing (really anything) takes. Customs checks are necessary to ensure that we keep our borders and crops safe, however other than that, simplifying the duty structure to facilitate speed of delivery would have a significant positive effect on businesses and personal life. Businesses would import and sell more goods at cheaper prices – yielding greater profits for the government to tax and consumers would be able to access a greater number of products faster to improve their lives. We may have the next biggest inventor sitting next to us, but until we can quickly and easily get products for them to test and try we will never harness their talents.
Digital Citizen Engagement
Citizen to Government engagement platforms such as Citizenlab.co and Civocracy.com allows public officers to get feedback directly from their constituents. We need to put ourselves in the place where we can quickly submit and get feedback from our citizens. Today we have all of the tools and resources to do so and I believe that digital citizen engagement is a powerful tool to directly engage our populace in real-time and really get a pulse of how decisions would impact our communities while getting feedback directly from the community. This is a great example of how we can leverage technology in tangible ways to improve our lives.
Imagine a country where we create new progressive industries, empower locals to create brands and welcome workers from all over the world to live in a sustainable, renewable, and progressive environment.
Barbados can be that country if we focus on exploiting the highlighted opportunities. We need to take advantage of these opportunities to refocus and to accelerate our efforts at economic diversification. This is absolutely necessary if we are to position ourselves to thrive now and into the future.