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Country profile - Dominica

dominica

Known as the "Nature Island" due to its varied flora and fauna, Dominica - located between Martinique and Guadeloupe in the Lesser Antilles - is at the centre of the arc forming the Caribbean Archipelago. The last Caribbean island to be colonized by Europeans, it gained official independence in 1978. It was however, Mary Eugenia Charles who left the most recent mark on the country. Becoming the first female Prime Minister of a Caribbean island in 1980, she led the country for 15 years driving economic reform and clamping down on government corruption.

Dominica is a volcanic country 27 miles long and up to 16 miles wide with varied topography rising to elevations of 1500 metres. With a tropical climate prone to hurricanes it receives over 750 mm of rain a year in some places, resulting in numerous rivers, waterfalls and expansive rainforest. Most islanders are descendants of the African slave trade but the population includes 3000 indigenous Carib Indians. Population growth is low, as many islanders leave for more developed Caribbean islands or the US or Europe. Those that remain are largely dependent on agriculture or tourism for their livelihoods.

Bananas - a fading future?

Forty percent of Dominican workers are employed in the agriculture sector with bananas providing the mainstay of the country's economy, contributing 60 cents of every dollar earned. Vulnerable to climatic conditions, (Hurricane Luis completely devastated the banana crop in September 1995) the island has, however, traditionally enjoyed preferential trade agreements with the EU. Pressure from the WTO has meant this is drawing to an end. Since the 1st of January 2006 quotas controlling imports of Latin American "dollar bananas" into the EU have been eliminated. Although the EU is required to pay a tariff of 176 Euros per tonne, this is well below the minimum 275 Euros the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) growers stated they needed to ensure viability.

Fairtrade has been hailed as the key to future prosperity. A specific contract with UK supermarket Tesco allows for higher prices and a premium in return for high environmental and production standards. Amos Wiltshire, National Fairtrade Co-ordinator, comments that "Fair Trade is empowering people to manage their own affairs - the development of human capacity that is so vital for the future. With Fairtrade, small farmers have been transformed from marginalised farmers into businessmen." Continued success depends on the willingness of Tesco and UK shoppers to sustain support for these products and also on the ability of local farmers to gain official certification for their production standards by the 30th September 2006 deadline.

Diversification

Bay oil distillery, Dominica
Bay oil distillery, Dominica

In the context of the restrictive and competitive banana industry, farmers are increasingly being forced to diversify. Bay Oil from the West Indian Bay Tree (Primenta racemosa) has for some time been a popular alternative (see Caribbean elixir). Production is concentrated in the south east where Bay is grown on steep, rocky slopes. Sold in the U.S and European markets, it has been used as one of several "essential oils" in perfumes and cosmetics. Recent concern over a potential cancer risk has however, severely diminished trade.

Production of Mexican limes for juice is another major industry. The juice is mainly exported to the UK. In its heyday during the 1960's the industry was a major earner for the country and the juice was bottled as the popular "Rose's Lime Juice". Changes in the world economy and competition from the Dominican Republic in particular, almost destroyed Dominica's market in the 1970's. It has since begun to pick up again with lime oil distilled from the juice providing further export potential.

Ecotourism

Due to its lack of beaches and international airport, Dominica is not viewed as a traditional Caribbean tourist destination. It is however, home to an abundance of marine life, pristine rainforest and the second largest volcanic boiling lake in the world, creating the perfect environment in which to develop ecotourism. The national motto, "After God - The Earth", reflects this conservationist approach. In 1997 Dominica became the first Caribbean country to participate in the work of Green Globe (a worldwide travel and tourism certification programme), and in 2004 became the first country to achieve its prestigious eco-tourism standards. There are now four National Parks including two (Toucari and Cabrits) marine parks and Morne Trois Pitons, the only natural world heritage site in the eastern Caribbean. Dominica was also recently named by ShermansTravel.com as one of the top ten eco-tourist hotspots in the world including a top five-dive destination.

The government is currently in partnership with the EU in implementing a three year ecotourism development programme costing 16 million Euros, laying the foundation for a prosperous sustainable tourism industry. New tourism development projects are also benefiting farmers in the struggling agricultural sector. Jungle Bay, a major new six million dollar tourism building project supported by European investors, hires dozens of unemployed farmers; food not used at its restaurants will be given to local farmers for use as compost and pig feed.

Despite these efforts, Dominica still struggles with low GDP, high poverty and high unemployment. Compared with other Caribbean states however, the crime rate is relatively low and although it remains one of the poorest countries in the region, the disparity in wealth is not as marked as in other larger Caribbean islands. Relatively remote and rugged but rich in natural resources, the government should be commended for its efforts to develop sustainable tourism ventures and to diversify its agricultural production.

Statistical information
  • Country: Dominica
  • Capital: Roseau
  • Area: 751 sq. km
  • Population: 68,910 (July 2006 est.)
  • Population growth rate: -0.08% (2006 est.)
  • Life expectancy: 74.87 years
  • Ethnic groups: Black, mixed black and European, European, Syrian, Caribbean American
  • Languages: English (official), French Patois
  • Inflation: 1% (2001 est.)
  • GDP: purchasing power parity $384 million (2003 est.)
  • GDP: per capita: $5,500 (2003 est.)
  • GDP composition by sector: Agriculture 18%, Industry 33%, Services 49% (2004 est.)
  • Land use: arable land: 7%, permanent crops: 21%, other: 72% (2005 est.)
  • Major industries: soap, coconut oil, tourism, copra, furniture, cement blocks, shoes
  • Agricultural products: bananas, citrus fruits, mangoes, Root crops, coconuts, cocoa
  • Natural resources: timber, hydropower, arable land
  • Export commodities: bananas, soap, bay oil, vegetables, grapefruit, oranges
  • Export partners: UK 21.3%, Jamaica 14.6%, Antigua and Barbuda 8.7%, Guyana 7.4%, Japan 5.3%, Trinidad and Tobago 4.7%, U.S 4.2% (2004 est.)

Date published: September 2006

 

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