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close this bookThe Courier N 140 - July - Aug 1993 - Dossier: National Minorities - Country Reports: Dominica, Mozambique (EC Courier, 1993, 96 p.)
close this folderCountry reports
close this folderDominica : Much ado about... bananas
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentInterview with Prime Minister Dame Eugenia Charles
View the documentInterview with Edison James, Leader of the Opposition
View the documentDominica the European Community: a solid partnership


The look of trepidation on the face of the elderly American lady tourist was obvious as the small LIAT aircraft descended steeply towards Canefield Airport- although this may be too grand a description of the concrete strip one actually lands on. Fortunately there was the beautiful view of the Dominican countryside to distract her attention, at least partly, from the landing. Clearly she was wondering whether the bother of getting to Dominica, involving a transit in Antigua after a long and tiresome wait, was going to be worthwhile. While this situation in itself illustrates why so many Dominican spokesmen insist on the need for a new 24-hour airport providing direct access, the lady's momentary worries were likely to be very quickly dissolved soon after her arrival. The warm welcome extended to her, combined with the prospect of discovering the wide array of assets of the Caribbean's Nature Island, probably compensated for her short-lived discomfort.

The current worries of the Dominicans themselves are neither short-lived nor likely to disappear in the near future. Their widespread unease stems from uncertainty over the future of their country's lifeline, threatened at its very roots: their banana trade and industry looks to be in jeopardy. Apart from those too young to understand, virtually every Dominican today feels his country is the victim of an 'enemy' they refer to as 'the Latins'-their Latin American banana competitors. Everybody seems to know the main battleground, Europe, and seems familiar with the jargon even if it consists of acronyms such as GA TT, the EC's CAP or notions such as the Single Market. All parties concerned have international allies, though some of these allies seem to have one foot in each camp. In every skirmish, many of which are fought through the media, 'weapons' such as quotas, tariff barriers, panels and court cases are brandished. Let there be no mistake; this war between 'Eurobananas' and dollar bananas, leaves no Dominican, whether small farmer, civil servant, businessman or housewife, indifferent. Indeed, over and above the banana producing and exporting community, all the inhabitants are uncomfortably aware that no other crop is currently capable of providing as many jobs or of raising as much income for the country. To them, it is not just the issue of 'if bananas do well, Dominica does well', even if that statement is true. In their view it is a question of life or death. Even when ravaged by hurricanes, as unfortunately happens from time to time, bananas have always managed to survive. Dominica without its bananas is as inconceivable as Mauritius without its sugar or Kuwait without its oil. The Dominicans' main worry is, therefore: 'Are we, however small a producer, going to be pushed out of business?'Given the sweet fruit's preponderance in the economy and omnipresence in the landscape, one can understand why there is such deep concern.

Nature Island

Please use the country's official name 'The Commonwealth of Dominica' when writing to someone living on this island in the far north of the chain of the English speaking Caribbean Islands which collectively are known as the Windwards. Most correspondence addressed simply to 'Dominica' gets sent to the Dominican Republic from where it will eventually be rerouted to its proper destination. Those responsible for this confusion - two 'Dominicas' in the Caribbean Sea-were in fact members of the same famous family! It was Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer, who gave the now English-speaking island its name, the Lord's Day in Latin, having sighted it on Sunday November 3, 1493. Five years later, his brother Bartholomeo established the city of Santo Domingo on the more northerly island of Hispaniola. The present-day Dominican Republic (Spanish-speaking), which occupies the eastern part of Hispaniola, subsequently took its name from this city.

If your mail finally reaches its proper destination, it will have landed on one of the most rugged and lush Caribbean islands. Dominica has the shape of a rectangle rounded at both ends. It is 46 km long and 25 km wide, with a total area of some 800 km2. The terrain is very mountainous, including one of the highest peaks in the Caribbean archipelago, and is covered with dense rain forest through which no fewer than 365 rivers flow to the sea, sometimes over spectacular waterfalls. Needless to say, flat surfaces, beyond the size of a cricket pitch, of course, are difficult to find, as any builder-particularly of airports- can testify. The landmass, as seen from the sea, so impressed the Carib Indians, who wrested control of the island from the Arawak Indians, that they called it Waitukubuli or 'Tall is her body'. When independence was granted from the UK in November 1978, reverting to the original Carib name was considered but the idea was soon abandoned because the name was thought to be too complicated. The island is nevertheless home to some 3500 Caribs, who live in a reserve on the north-east coast-the last remaining community of Carib Indians in the Caribbean. Like its neighbours, Dominica has, throughout its history, been coveted by various European nations (principally France and the United Kingdom) and it 'charged hands' on a number of occasions. It is situated, oddly enough, in the 'heart of France', its closest neighbours being the French Overseas Departments of Guadaloupe to the north and Martinique to the south, both of which are also banana producers. Despite this, Dominica ended up being a British colony prior to its independence. Not surprisingly, therefore, English is the official language, although a form of Creole very close to the Creole of Mauritius is widely spoken in this island of 72 000 inhabitants.

Whilst Dominicans are generally peaceful and easy-going, they have always had a propensity for lively local politics. In the period immediately following independence, the turbulence on the political scene seemed almost to vie with Hurricanes David and Allen which struck with disastrous effects in 1979 and 1980 respectively. Political allegiances shifted rapidly. Parties split and new ones -sometimes shon-lived-were created. Strikes and demonstrations raised the political temperature even further. Matters became clearer in July 1980 when the general election delivered a decisive result; a landslide victory for the Dominica Freedom Party headed by Eugenia Charles (see the interview which follows). The DFP took 17 of the 21 seats and, in so doing, ended the reign of the Dominica Labour Party, which had held power in the local legislature for almost two decades. An advocate of free enterprise, Eugenia Charles, who was previously a barrister, quickly imprinted her own firm and outspoken style on both local and international politics. In 1983 she hit the international headlines when, in her capacity as chair of the OECS, she stood beside President Reagan and staunchly defended the US intervention in Grenada.

Her irreverent nickname, 'Iron Lady', dates from that period, although many in Dominica refer to her more endearingly as 'Memo' as if all the people were her children. Dame Eugenia, who was awarded her title in 1991, has won every election since that memorable July although her majority has progressively diminished. Few observers would dispute her impact on Dominica's positive turnaround since she came to power. Prior to Dame Eugenia, Dominica had a reputation for decay and inefficiency. Many inhabitants emigrated and, out of embarrassment it is said, relinquished their passports. Today, while many Dominicans still follow higher education or earn a living abroad-job opportunities remain scarce in this predominantly agricultural economy-they nevertheless remain proud of 'beck home', where they eventually hope to return to enjoy some of the good things in life. Who can blame them; there are many worse places than Dominica!

A 'worried' business climate

'Gramatically it may not be the proper word, but "worried" is certainly the best description of the current business climate,' according to Derek Davies of the Dominican Association of Industry and Commerce. The Dominican economy has indeed entered a downward phase, with a definite slowdown in real growth to only about 2% in 1991. By contrast, in the second half of the 1980s, real growth averaged 5.5% (1986-90), a positive result which would have been even better had it not been for Hurricane Hugo in September 1989 which severely damaged the banana and other crops. 'To some extent, people still live by the expectations created by the banana boom in the late 1980's,' explained the island's Development Coordinator, Cary Harris. 'That was when the pound was strong and we got good prices in our traditional UK markets. The absence of Jamaica from the market also gave us plenty of opportunities.' Despite the quick recovery after Hugo, 1991 saw a reversal of the trend and, in recent years, the worldwide recession combined with the uncertainty hanging over the future of the banana sector is likely to affect Dominica's open and vulnerable economy even more adversely.

Dominica is beautifully endowed by nature, an endowment which offers a basis for further development of ecotourism, but the island is, at the same time, handicapped by its natural environment and in particular by its topography. Only about 30% of the total land area is suitable for agriculture and as one drives around the attractive countryside one can only marvel at the steepness of the slopes which farmers endeavour to cultivate. Unfortunately, the result of such efforts may be soil erosion.

Overall, Dominica has a narrow resource base although it does have limited hydroelectric potential. It has to cope with the problems of a small domestic market, high infrastructure costs and poor transport, notably as regards air access. Lying, as it does, in the hurricane belt, it is susceptible to natural disasters. And, as mentioned earlier, it is heavily dependent on a single crop-bananas- over whose future it has no control. A blunt assessment of the position can be found in an official report which states that 'geographical circumstances will always keep Dominica at the lower end of the prosperity stakes.' But perhaps this is a little too blunt. Dominica may not have the prospect of acquiring untold wealth but it has quite a lot of things in its favour: as a developing country, it has no need to pass any democratic test (unlike many others), it has no real military expenditure commitments as it has no army and it does not, for practical reasons, have any expensive prestige projects. What it does have, beyond a remarkable natural environment, is a well-educated population with a leadership that makes it quite clear to the people that 'the world doesn't owe us a living'. What Dame Eugeniatells her people is this: 'If we are to make progress and survive in what is becoming an increasingly hostile environment, we must work together and find ways and means of improving our performance in the various areas of economic activity.'

Reducing dependence on bananas in the long-term, by expanding the economic base and promoting diversification, will depend greatly on the emergence of home-grown entrepreneurship. Mr Davies is convinced that 'investment will have to be Dominican before anything else'. The problem is, how does one 'produce' entrepreneurs? Some in the traditional private sector have already successfully expanded into other sectors, such as soaps and lotions, but, overall, there is a lack of the managerial and technical skills which are needed for entrepreneur-led expansion. As Charles Maynard, who is Minister for Trade, Industry and Tourism, explained, 'Trying to convince emigrant Dominicans to return and invest back home is part and parcel of our investment strategy'. There are approximately 50 000 Dominicans in the UK and a similar number in the USA. Many of them have the experience as well as the savings and/or pensions to fill the local 'voids'. Minister Maynard enumerates as some of the main incentives for investment the combination of a stable political climate with an adaptable labour force, and in physical terms, the availability of water which also provides a relatively cheap source of energy in the form of hydro-power. In his view, there are many investment opportunities still available in the wider tourism and tourism-related service industries, as well as in agro-industries.

Airport bottleneck

Access, whether by air or sea, is obviously vital for putative investors, both local and foreign. Recently, there has been considerable criticism of the steep rise in port charges, which threatens to hamstring entrepreneurs. As is often the case on islands such as this, stevedores and longshoremen can effectively hold their country to ransom. The efficiency of port operations is unlikely to be optimum, while charges for stevedores push up price levels overall. As regards sea transport, this situation exists in most of the Caribbean islands, but Dominica also has special problems in respect of air access. Today, it is difficult to find a politician or businessman who is not preoccupied by the airport issue. Their central complaint is over the lack of a 24hour airport facility capable of handling larger aircraft. Dominica currently has two airstrips. Canefield, which is near the capital Roseau, takes I 9-seat Twin Otters while Melville Hall, which is 60 km to the north, can only handle planes of up to 50seat capacity. Neither is properly equipped for take-offs or landings at night.

Getting to and from Dominica is very likely to involve changing planes in a neighbouring island. Loss of time, the risk of missing connections, luggage or produce going astray-all of these are obvious handicaps which hinder trade. Just imagine one's fresh, perishable produce missing its vital connection or a potential foreign investor stranded at an intermediate airport at a time when the maxim 'time is money' has never been more powerful. Most air services to Dominica are currently provided by the regional carrier LIAT. However laudable their efforts in providing regular services on time, they face quite a challenge in operating in the scattered Caribbean archipelago-operations which necessarily involve constant island hopping. The many jokes which are made at LIAT's expense ('leave island any time', 'luggage in any terminal', 'look immediately for alternative transport'...) point, in a light-hearted way, to what is nonetheless a serious problem.

The effects of not having a 24-hou. airport have already been felt directly, for example in the closure of a data-processing plant. This happened because too much time was being lost in getting the processed data out. Some processed agricultural products have also suffered from the need to transship while, according to Dominican sources, the loss of investment cannot be underestimated. According to Alleyne Carbon, who is Minister for Communications, Works and Housing; 'The only way for us to diversify successfully and therefore to survive economically is to find grant funding to finance a new, 24-hour accessible airport for medium-sized aircraft.' His colleagues in Trade and Agriculture, and presumably in other departments as well, couldn't agree more. But given the particular problems of topography, any infrastructural investment of this kind is bound to involve high unit costs. To give just one example: it costs EC$10.5 million ('In loan funding, as grants are hard to come by these days,' stresses Minister Carbon) to bring water (even if it is omnipresent) to three communities totalling a mere 9600 people. The airport, for which a site has been identified and surveyed in the north, at Woodford Hill, carries a total price tag of EC$700 million. To put this figure into perspective, the total amount budgeted in the 1991 public sector investment programme was only EC$75.8 million! The basic problem, as mentioned earlier, is that flat terrain is very scarce so a massive landfilling operation is required. Dame Eugenia, on good terms with the US administration since the 1983 Grenada crisis, secured a firm promise from President Bush that the US Army Corps of Engineers would undertake the earthmoving work. This would have the effect of reducing the total cost of the new airport to about EC$366 million. The Gulf War meant that the Corps of Engineers was called upon to display its skills on a rather different 'battle ground' and, while remaining confident that the new Clinton administration will eventually honour the commitment, the Dominican Government is currently facing a 'chicken and egg' situation in its attempts to secure financing for the airport. Most donors are hesitant-although some are moving away from a flatly negative attitude-believing that the scale of the undertaking is out of proportion to the expected benefits. The Government remains convinced that the project is an unavoidable necessity. They point out that infrastructure projects which were said at the outset to tee 'too big' frequently had difficulties, shortly after opening, in matching their capacity to rising demand. Most donors, they assert, tend to underestimate the likely impact of new activities. A classic example to illustrate this is the well-maintained network of surfaced feeder roads which crisscross the valleys and slopes. According to Minister Carbon, 'If we had stuck to the regular parameters to calculate the internal rate of return of these roads, without taking into account our rugged terrain and high average rainfall, we would have been stuck with gravel roads fit for transport with horses and donkeys but hardly for pick-ups collecting crops for exports! Fortunately, the EC was forthcoming and understood our special needs, so that today we have an excellent feeder road network-mostly with privatised maintenance-which not only serves our farmers, but fits in nicely with our tourism sector too.' Given the passions which the airport issue arouses, and the frequency with which it comes to the fore in any discussion of local political issues, it is a story that looks likely to run and run.

Survival through negotiation

Convincing donors to come up with the necessary funding will depend on effective negotiating skills. As regards bananas and the wider issue of trade, such skills will be even more crucial. 'Our ability to survive at a time when trade has become such a crucial issue will directly depend on our negotiating ability,' stresses Minister Maynard. In his view, 'the very survival of this region requires us to negotiate as a Caribbean entity where key decisions should be taken at the regional or subregional level.' From a global perspective he emphasises that 'small countries have a right to exist, and free trade per se should not be allowed to wipe us out.'

Today Dominica is certainly forced to monitor actively a number of situations related to free trade, and this puts quite a strain on its limited human resources. Closer to home, there is the issue of trade relations with the US, with the latter seeking a lowering of the Caricom Common External Tariff. As Minister Maynard stressed, 'The pace is very important to us and can hamper us a lot. De facto, the US applies many non-tariff barriers, under the influence of certain powerful lobbies, and these make it very difficult for us to enter the US market.' Also, from an investment and traderelated point of view, the new NAFTA agreement has already been 'eroded'- just as the Caribbean Basin Initiative was 'eroded', in the eyes of many Caribbean spokemen. Some say that NAFTA even poses a threat to US investments in the Caribbean, as Mexico now appears 'the place to be'-close to the market and with abundant cheap labour. To add to the geographical constraints, there is the prevailing 'just-in-time' industrial philosophy which has already been detrimental to a number of US investments in the Caribbean, for instance in electronics.

Within Caricom itself, there is still considerable scope for expanding trade. Only about 10% of the total trade of Caricom countries is currently intraregional. The region's integration process certainly seems to have been given new impetus since the far-reaching West Indian Commission Report was published and the new Caricom Bureau became effective. Also close to home is the trade potential offered by French neighbours Martinique and Guadeloupe and that could be usefully exploited further.

Banana 'split'?

Most attention, however, is focused on more distant markets. Dominica has closely to monitor events on the banana 'warfront' both in the European Community and in the wider GATT arena. Dominica is one of the ACP banana suppliers which has traditionally enjoyed preferential access to the EC market under the Lome Banana Protocol. The island's fruit is sold, mostly in the UK and Italy, as 'Five Isles' Windwards bananas, being marketed together with the bananas of St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenada ('Four Isles', while being more accurate, was apparently considered to be unsuitable for marketing purposes!)... The EC's banana market, with a total annual consumption of 3.7 m tonnes in 1992, is a complicated one characterised by considerable fragmentation. There are those Member States-France, Spain. Portugal, Greece, Italy and the United Kingdom-who either produce bananas themselves (often in island territories such as Guadaloupe, Martinique, the Canary Islands, Madeira and Crete) or have their traditional ACP suppliers. The latter are those who have, or have had, a regular flow of supplies to one or other Member State of the Community and they include places such as Cote d'Ivoire, Cameroun, Cape Verde, Madagascar, Somalia, the Windward Islands, Belize, Suriname and Jamaica (there are also non-traditional ACP suppliers such as the Dominican Republic). Broadly speaking, these producers have, for a variety of reasons, high production costs combined with low productivity. The other EC Member States traditionally buy 'dollar' bananas-so-called because their production and trade is almost totally controlled by US fruit multinationals. These imports were subject to a 20% levy, with one vital exception- Germany, which could import its total consumption of dollar bananas without any levy. However, the entry into force of the EC's Single Market on I January of this year meant that a new arrangement was needed for bananas, involving the ending of market partitioning within the Community. It was bound to be a problematic exercise given the intricacy of the existing trade relations. As expected, there were heated arguments; so heated in fact that nowadays, metaphorically speaking, commenting at all on the issue resembles going for a walk in Bosnia. You get shot at from all sides!

On 17 December 1992, the EC Agriculture Ministers finally bit the bullet when they agreed on a new banana quota system that would regulate imports to the EC from I July 1993. The details of the regime were subsequently hammered out by the EC Council and published in a Regulation in February 1993. The decision in December was reached by majority vote, a fact which is significant since Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands opposed the scheme. Without going into too much detail, the key points of the new system are as follows: the EC's own producers and its traditional ACP suppliers are allowed to continue selling their usual quantities of bananas on the EC market without levy; other imports-in effect, mostly 'dollar' bananas -are subject to a global tariff quota of 2 m tonnes with an ECU 100 levy per tonne (except for non-traditional ACP suppliers who effectively do not have to pay the levy, since they receive an ECU 100 rebate); above that quota, a 'punitive' tariff of ECU 850 per tonne will be applied (except for any ACP supplier operating in this market bracket and who, again, will benefit from an ECU 100 rebate).

As soon as the content of the new market regulation was known to the media, fierce arguments broke out and the dust has yet to settle. The 'Latins', hand in glove with their US fruit company partners, seize every available opportunity to attack the new regime- not surprisingly since, in 1991, they exported 2.4 million tonnes of bananas to the Community. Germany is also reluctant to accept the consequences of the new deal, fearing a substantial price rise for its banana-craving population. The banana regime has therefore been subjected to a two-pronged challenge-from Germany in the European Court and from Latin American producers before a GATT panel. On both sides, the arguments have spilled over from the purely economic into socio-political issues. The spectre of increased drug production as a possible alternative for banana growers has been raised. Some have even chosen to characterise the controversy as a human rights battle, portraying the ACP/EC banana interests in a positive light as compared with the allegedly poor social conditions of workers in the big Latin-American plantations.

A double challenge

The argument is clearly not over and as for the final outcome, only time will tell. But from a strictly Dominican point of view, the importance of continued guaranteed access to the EC banana market cannot be underestimated. For Dominicans it is, in the economic sense, quite simply a matter of life and death. Given the overwhelming role of bananas, not only in the economy, but in wider Dominican society, it is not difficult to understand the insistence with which they present their cases. Banana exports represent almost 60% of total domestic exports and are responsible for one fifth of GDP. Last year 60 896 tonnes were produced by some 6000 growers, not counting several thousand casual labourers. 58 024 tonnes were exported, worth a total of EC$ 82 million. Last year, Winban banana exports to Europe totalled 275 000 tonnes, of which more than 82% were sold in the UK while the remainder went to Italy. As Agriculture Minister Maynard Joseph put it: 'Two out of every three Dominicans profit from the dollar that comes from bananas because banana farming and exporting has such a tremendous spill-over effect on our whole economy. Failing to get the historic decision of 17 December 1992 would have been a slap in the face no Latin would suffer from as badly.'

Over and above the key issue of whether the new banana regime will hold under the heavy 'enemy' assault and the resulting uncertainty it has cast in people's minds and hearts on Dominica, there is in fact no time to lose in facing up to the challenges posed by the new regime itself. The challenge is in fact twofold: growers here should strive to raise both their productivity and the average quality of their fruit. Spokesmen both from the Banana Growers Association (BOA) and from the Dominica Banana Marketing Corporation (DBMC) agree that with concerted efforts, both quality and productivity can be raised. BGA Acting Executive Secretary Clifford St. Vill stressed the importance of 'making farmers understand it is not fait accompli to be on the market, they must be aware of what goes on in those markets. Germany and the GATT keep the farmers pounding their heads to diversify, but nothing is as yet as profitable, nor provides such a regular income, as bananas.' Current average production is only about 5-6 tonnes per acre, yet pushing it up to about 10 tonnes per acre seems feasible to him if farmers learn to manage their production better, paying the necessary attention and putting the required amount of time into every aspect of it: regular distribution of fertilisers, careful selection of the 'follower' limiting the number of 'stickers', proper maintenance of fields, cutting down weeds, covering bunches in plastic for protection, careful clustered packing and transport etc.

DBMC General Manager Gregory Shilling ford referred, in this context, to the problem 'of extending better production practices to a large number of small farmers.' He stressed that 'quality and presentation will become key parameters in a highly competitive market. While we as Winban suppliers now know our quota of A-grade bananas-a total of 294 000 tonnes, of which 71 000 tonnes is Dominica's share - there remains much uncertainty over the prices that will prevail for our produce; the UK was traditionally a high price market which will certainly attract Latin American competition. All parties concerned by our industry, be they the growers, government, DBMC or Geest, have agreed that it must restructure to meet the new challenges and match the quality of the competitors.' Farmers seem to have understood the state of the quality play and in the first months of this year their concerted efforts have pushed quality ratings into the top brackets. As Agriculture Minister Joseph put it, 'Farmers really impressed me by their response to the high quality standards.' Quality ratings have indeed gone up and use of the so-called cluster packing technique (packing boxes with clusters of 5-9 'fingers' of banana, instead of full 'hands' of 14 fingers, stabilises fruit during transport) which is often a determining factor in delivering quality fruit to consumers, has sharply risen-from only 26% of total banana exports at the end of 1992 to 55% in April 1993. By 1 July all fruit was to be cluster-packed.

The Windward Islands banana exporters have a common research and marketing organisation, Winban, which negotiates on their behalf the terms of the exclusive contract held by Geest (a UK multinational) for marketing the crop in Europe. Both Winban and Geest face criticism from different quarters. The growers, through the DGA, feel that 'Winban's current structure is not fit to do its work' and that Geest 'is reaping off the profits, but we are nevertheless condemned to work with them'. The DBMC argues, 'There may be the perception that Winban has not completely lived up to expectations and is under fire, yet Winban in its defence argues that it made a great gain in pushing its share of the green wholesale price up from 40% to 60%.'

Describing the relationship with Geest as a love/hate one may be too strong a statement. Enjoying an exclusive marketing contract since the late 1950s, Geest has certainly done well, but as it is not in the business for charity but for profit, who can blame it? In Dominica, as in the other Winban partners, there is a certain amount of frustration, however, over who gets what share of the cake. The general opinion seems to be that they 'missed the boat'-quite an irony in a place where the weekly call of the Geest banana boat is so vital-of sharing the considerable profits Geest is making in the shipping and marketing of the fruit. This too is an issue that will depend upon the negotiating skills of the parties concerned, bearing in mind that all have a solid interest in fighting for the survival and long-term viability of the sector. (It is worth underlining the fact that while the Winban quota provides a guaranteed market, it also, by definition, represents a ceiling on expansion with obvious implications when input prices increase.)

Some note with a jaundiced eye that Geest has also a foot in the Latin camp, having acquired a Costa Rican plantation. 'In fact, in the three months since the details of the new regime became known, Geest shares have jumped from 66p a share to 474p a share,' observed Mr Shillingford. By contrast, he claimed that DBMC had lost EC$5 million in 1992 and that by early April prices had been below break-even for no fewer than 39 weeks in succession! Despite the apparent dichotomy, many are nevertheless convinced that a close partnership with Geest continues to be in Dominica's overall interests.

Agricultural diversification and eco-tourism

The banana war has certainly raised awareness of and interest in possible alternative uses for bananas. A whole variety of products are under consideration: making banana flour, using the fruit as animal feed (to cut down current imports), using banana stems for cloth, producing rope from the dried stock, making high-protein jam from the flower, manufacturing banana chips, liqueur, puree and so on... not to mention banana porridge, on which many Dominicans have been raised!

The new banana situation is, of course, also a further incentive to diversification with a view to reducing the country's dependence on its dominant crop. In such a predominantly agricultural economy, it is the farmers and agro-processors to whom one looks for results. Coconuts (for soaps and lotions), passion fruit, grapefruit, root crops, ginger and avocados are some of the crops being actively promoted (or in some cases rehabilitated). While Geest plays a role here too, by providing cargo space in its banana boats for other products, one again stumbles unavoidably on the airport issue. Film buffs who remember Dominica's role in the 'Orchid House' will not be surprised to discover that the country has potential for exporting flowers such as anthuriums, ginger lilies and of course orchids. The problem is that, together with other perishable crops destined for niche markets, they face a stop-over in Antigua. This increases the risk of a loss in quality-even with the refrigeration facility available there-and, of course, additional costs.

Agriculture is closely tied in with tourism here. Virtually all the tourist spots are in farming areas and the excellent feeder road network provides access to visitors which allows increased possibilities for on-farm sales. Much of the diversification in terms of vegetable and flower production has also been geared towards the hotels and restaurants. Agriculture Minister Joseph wondered 'what really stayed in a country as a result of tourism, considering what has happened in a lot of neighbouring tourism-based countries, where the cost of living as well as the cost to society has risen, and the quality of life has gone down.' There is little reason to fear that those in Dominica who are directly involved in tourism will push it too far. The island is not competing in the 'sun, sea and sand' bracket, but has its own attractions-which are atypical for the Caribbean region: nature above all, with a bit of history and a dash of nohurry, no-worry life style (the whole island boasts only a single set of traffic lights). It calls for a different type of clientele altogether; one that is not particularly in search of a tan lazily acquired on the beach, followed by long nights of disco dancing but whose preference is, perhaps, for mountain-hiking in a breathtaking setting followed by a refreshing shower under a waterfall.

At a time when the environment is so much an 'in' subject Dominica clearly has what it takes to attract nature lovers, bird or whale watchers, hikers and divers. Its still relatively unspoilt character makes it a destination which is out of the ordinary but which also raises a well-known problem: how much tourism can nature tolerate before it deteriorates in such a way as to deter the type of tourist which it caters for?

The Director of Tourism, Marie-Jose Edwards, revealed that a study was being undertaken, 'in cooperation with the forestry division, to examine the maximum carrying capacity. But,' she continued, 'we are far from reaching our limits because of the bottlenecks caused by access. It is obvious, however, that if we destroy our nature in the broader sense, then we will have nothing else to market.' Tourism as a business is fairly new to the Dominican scene, at least from the point of view of active promotion. Last year overall visitor arrivals totalled 57 700, of which almost 47 000 were stayover tourists, the remainder being excursionists. Most tourists come from the Caribbean (57%), specifically the French West Indies, while the other main markets are Europe (21%) and the USA (16%). Stop-over tourists spent an average of US$ 65 per day. The opening of the new Cabrits Cruise Ship Berth in the north, combined with the berth near Roseau, which is to be renovated, has led to a steep rise in cruise ship arrivals: from 130 calls and 65 000 passengers in 1991 to 189 calls and 90 000 passengers a year later. Again the main attraction is not the classic Caribbean duty-free shopping, but eco-tourism.

Growth in available rooms will be controlled, rising gradually from the current 570 units to 640 by the end of this year. The target is for 740 units by the end of 1995. Minister Maynard felt there is also a need for at least one hotel with conference facilities; a Taiwanese investment seems to be in the pipeline in this context, which is linked, in fact, to the notion of economic citizenship (foreign investors, mainly Asian, can acquire citizenship given a certain amount of investment in the country).

Other national assets such as sulphur springs could constitute the basis for further tourist specialisation e.g. in the form of a health spa in combination with local fruit juices and hiking/jogging in natural surroundings. Some niche markets have already been very successfully 'tapped': 'In the space of four years we were able to put ourselves at the forefront of the world scuba diving community, raising the numbers of divers from 400 to more than 2200,' emphasised Ms Edwards. A rich marine life, combined with caves and shipwrecks and the prospect of a 'champagne dive' to marvel at hot underwater sulphur springs, has proven to be another winning combination. There is particular appreciation of the European Community's support for tourism, which is provided on a regional basis at two levels-through the OECS and in a wider Caribbean context through the Caribbean Tourism Organisation. Combined efforts in marketing, training and product development have helped to give Dominica its own particular spot on the world tourism map.

Fully conscious that 'the world doesn't owe it a living', Dominica spares no effort in the drive to reduce its dependence on bananas. While seeking to become an even more efficient quality banana producer, because that is what nature condemned it to be, it is also diversifying wherever it can. A democratic society which enjoys good governance, this small middle-income developing country certainly does not deserve to take a tumble on the banana skin that could be dropped in its path by blind defenders of free trade principles.