Individuals & communities making things new in Trinidad & Tobago

What can individuals and communities do to help transform Trinidad and Tobago? Perhaps we should all find out about rejuvenation

WORDS By: Pat Ganase
Published in CONTACT Magazine

For everything under the sun, there are seasons of decline and seasons of renewal. Every Jouvay, every Panorama, every Carnival, every year, masqueraders and musicians play and renew themselves and their art. Every successful business knows cycles of downturn and rejuvenation. Now the pace of change in the world is quickening: can Trinidad and Tobago rejuvenate itself out of its present decline?

As the downturn in our economy threatens our wealth and stability, it is wise to count blessings and achievements. Against the odds, we have had a national airline for over 75 years. We have a regional university and a national university. We have products known the world over: La Brea pitch, Trinitario cocoa, the sound of steel. Trinbagonians become stars wherever they find themselves. We are seen as a place with which to be strategically linked. We have festivals for every tribe that calls these islands home; and the foods and spices to match.

Such things should give us courage. But we need to look again at other industries and enterprises that we have come to consider foundational, but which may now have to be replaced or rejuvenated; or which we may have thought to be beneath our status as an oil-rich nation. We need to consider the global forces shaping our economy, and whether we should not strengthen our sense of ourselves as full global citizens, who must share the responsibility for what is happening to our world.

Climate change

More severe storms, prolonged wet or dry seasons, the flooding of low-lying areas, and sea-level rise: these are some of the challenges that we should expect to face as the world gets warmer.

As a species, we must join with the other eight billion other people on our planet to keep the temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. As individuals, we can start community action. As an oil and gas nation, with one of the highest per capita carbon footprints in the world, we can reduce our carbon production, mitigate it, rejuvenate plants and processes, conserve.

Is carbon dioxide from our major industrial plants (LNG, methanol, gas processors) reusable? Some of the practices we need to adopt – reduction of waste, recycling, conservation – may seem futile to the ordinary citizen. But it is up to corporations to lead in the wise disposal of waste, including the by-products of industrialisation.

Plastics

More efficient use of resources is generally seen as one of the keys to profitability and sustainability. At the rate at which we consume goods and services on our two islands, the recovery and re-use of waste should be a viable enterprise. How might we be innovative in producing a continuous cycle? Products from recycled plastics now range from cottage-industry reusable bags and woven rugs to new fabrics for shoes and blankets, industrial faux lumber, construction and road paving materials. Are we up to that challenge?

New energy

As the world turns to renewable sources such as wind, wave and solar energy, might it be a natural step for the national electricity company to expand its business into the installation of solar panels, tapping a new, clean and infinitely renewable source of electricity?

Sustainability

We have heard the basic dictates of the UN Sustainable Development Goals charter: zero poverty; zero hunger; health, wellbeing, education and gender equality; clean water and affordable energy. Can we really say we are earning high marks for responsible, sustainable progress?

Communities

We need to tap the natural initiative of our small communities: for example, by negotiating partnerships instead of patronage to serve the corporate responsibility needs of large companies and multinationals. Community-based small business and non-governmental organisations can contribute to the innovation and flexibility of big business. There are examples in many corners of our nation: we need to nurture and emulate them.

Rejuvenative enterprise

Rejuvenative enterprise depends on creativity and innovation that advances and updates sustainable industry and development. It will adapt systems and technology, but in the long run will reshape our very lifestyle and self-image, who we are and our place on the earth. Our future will depend on our willingness to relinquish what no longer serves us; and to embrace what serves not only humankind but the earth as a single ecosystem.

Here are some areas of enterprise that are needed or trending today.

Solar: Energy from the sun

The cost of installing solar panels, for example, is falling as technology advances. Tobago might be the place where TTEC could introduce and promote alternative energy generation and supply, creating a model for a sustainable business of the future. The distribution system that has been installed over most of the country will facilitate the next step towards the use of renewable energy.

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Most TTEC meters are bi-directional, so it should be simple to develop a net metering system. There is nothing to stand in the way of TTEC organising, promoting and utilising an alternate supply, like solar. Consider too that electric cars, to be recharged on household energy, are within ten years of mass production. Are we thinking ahead?

Wealth from waste

Three policy documents support a new enterprise: The Beverage Container Bill (1999); the National Environmental Policy (2006); and the Integrated Solid Waste/Resource Management Policy (2012). Is the iCare initiative going to industrialise waste recovery and help clean up the waterways?

As an example, Sustainable Barbados is a private-public sector partnership recovering materials for re-use in Barbados. Similar waste recovery centres could be set up at Studley Park in Tobago and landfill sites in Trinidad. Materials recovered could be the basis of new inventions.

Fresh produce is successfully being sold by Green Market Santa Cruz directly to the community. Photo by olepeshkina/shutterstock.com

From plant to plate

It’s probably the most stable industry – agriculture, agro-processing, agribusiness – with the greatest scope for growth at every step from field to fine dining. In addition to pepper sauces, condiments, beverages, baked goods and catering services, here are just a few examples of innovation that are working:

  • The Green Market Santa Cruz is an experiment in direct marketing of agri-products to specific communities. The example has been picked up by the NAMDEVCO weekend markets which now move produce into communities.

The relationship between producers and consumers helps with appreciation of, and access to, healthy food. It teaches us about the use and value of specific crops, such as the role of local honey, honeybees, and honey farmers in agriculture. Innovations in food production and marketing, especially in areas with limited land space, can grow into one of the most productive areas of rejuvenative enterprise.

  • Our Moving Table – a pop-up feast made from local produce – is successfully demonstrating new ways with food, and finding dining rooms around the country in garden settings like Ajoupa Gardens and San Antonio Nurseries.

Growers are experimenting with hydroponic and vertical systems as well as looking into the composition and health of soil, scientifically increasing yield and managing multiple crop cycles.

  • Cocoa. The demand and world price has stirred revitalisation of some of the old Trinidad and Tobago cocoa estates. But chocolate production does not depend on owning an estate, as many local brands demonstrate: Cocobel, Ortinola, Mariposa, Gina’s, Brasso Seco. This initiative is being led by the Cocoa Research Centre, the rejuvenated descendant of the Imperial College of Agriculture at St Augustine which grew into the University of the West Indies.

“Edutainment” tourism

Visitors to Tobago and Trinidad in the “active tourism” sector learn something every time they visit, whether they are returning residents or first-timers, whether they are here for festivals or business.

Ask the guides at the Asa Wright Centre who are constantly teaching about the birds, animals and plant life – and learning too. Ask the turtle protectors at Grande Riviere, the Main Ridge Rainforest guides, or Ali Baba’s Sea Breeze and Tours in Castara. Tobago’s more active visitors want to learn to dive and explore the ocean, to bicycle round the island, and to meet Tobagonians where they live.

There is much scope for a visitor market that is curious about TT lifestyle, festivals, food and the natural environment. The Environmental Research Institute of Charlotteville (ERIC) is tapping in to locals and visitors who are eager to understand and conserve the marine reserves around northeast Tobago. Buccoo Reef has long been a site of active tourism, a source of revenue for fisherfolk and tour operators, in spite of the failure to update management practices.

The Nariva and Caroni wetlands, turtle nesting beaches, El Tucuche and Aripo, can all bring revenue to small and diverse communities. All that’s needed might be the infrastructure and safeguards that the government provides; and a continued flow of arrivals by air and sea.

Conservation business

Enterprises can be built on conservation and the wise use of resources. Erle Rahaman-Noronha has developed his farm in central Trinidad on permaculture principles. Wa Samaki now houses the El Socorro Wildlife Centre for rescued wildlife. And the Wa Samaki crew has been commissioned to rehabilitate the Walker’s Reserve quarry in Barbados.

Our extractive industries – oil and gas, quarrying and mining – have to begin turning to sustainable practices. By partnering with proactive conservation enterprises, or including a conservation division in their operations, they can prepare for the “end of life” of the resource being exploited in order to evolve a rejuvenative enterprise. The quarries in the Arima valley, Matura forest and Aripo ought to be sites for re-foresting or conversion to parks.

Neglected or actively used as a dump, the ocean itself holds the greatest potential for future food, recreation, education, and research and development. It is a resource waiting to be explored – not exploited – for what it might teach us about life on earth.

For further reading

Sustainable Innovation: the Rejuvenative Enterprise by Joss Tantram, available from Amazon.

 

As published in the first issue of the rebranded CONTACT Magazine, produced by MEP for the Trinidad & Tobago Chamber of Industry & Commerce. Read the full issue here, which was unveiled at the Chamber’s April 2018 AGM

 

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