I believe that media can make a difference. I know that communication is as much visual as it is verbal, if not more. For part one of this series, we will explore the ‘if not more’ and begin a short tale of how an internship can ignite a flame under an entirely different side of yourself, previously uncharted. I call this side ocean.
Internships do not just magically appear for anyone- not usually. You must put in the time and effort towards finding an opportunity which best suits your goals. Luckily our Internship Coordinator is in constant pursuit of opportunities for us, but it still requires a lot of work to find the right opportunity. For my Capstone Experience for both masters degrees ( Entrepreneurship/ Sustainable Tourism), I sought an atypical internship experience. I wanted to work for a cause locally while having an effect, globally. In other words, we can all do our best locally to create or inspire noticeable change on a global scale. What better way to put my experience to work for the oceans and in turn, for humanity and all living creatures? What better way to set an example for younger eyes? Scientists say that we know around 5% of the world’s oceans but in the age of crowd-sourced knowledge, this library is growing exponentially. Normal human activity is naturally disruptive. Naturally, I aim to disrupt that.
Where I am Coming From
I like to recycle experience. I like to make stuff with data and code with Anthropology on my mind. At first, I imagined something educational, impactful and simple to love. I pulled from my experience. Since 2010, I have worked in close collaboration with scientists on sailboats, before enrolling to USF, called Beautiful Nation Project. Within Land Surveyors United community, members annually collaborate on the day of the summer solstice for Survey Earth in a Day, remeasuring the entire surface of the planet in a single day with great accuracy. I decided to get involved with an incredible cause in the form of an annual international film festival, as an intern. My mission is a BLUE one.
Where I am Going
Many of you have likely heard about the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit, but I’d bet most of you haven’t thought about how much work goes in to actually making an event like this happen. In the coming weeks, I will unfold this story in my blog posts for Patel College of Global Sustainability and give you all a bit of insight into what I am doing to help make BLUE 2016 to be a success.
About BLUE Ocean Film Festival
BLUE is an event administered, planned and executed by Make a Difference Media founders Debbie and Charles Kinder. The first BLUE Ocean event occurred in 2007 in Savanna, GA. Since then, it has become an internationally recognized catalyst for change and education regarding ocean conservation and ocean literacy. You can read more about Blue Ocean Festival here, but I would like to briefly point out how the “5 Elements of Blue” factor into global sustainability.
The five elements of BLUE come together and create a truly unique event which:
• Honors the world’s finest ocean films through the best-in-class film competition.
• Brings together the world’s esteemed leaders and ocean luminaries.
• Presents the world’s most comprehensive underwater film & photography professionals.
• Showcases Science and the Arts for the stewardship of the ocean.
• Changes the way the world sees the ocean.
This year, the festival just happens to be in St. Petersburg, FL on November 10th-13th. You can get your tickets here on Eventbrite and even become a volunteer by submitting the forms found here.
How Did I Find This Internship?
It all started with an introduction from the wonderful master of coordination, Rhiannon, to the Co-Founder and CEO of Make a Difference Media, Debbie Kinder. We met one day in Rhiannon’s office to discuss the types of help needed to get the film festival planning underway. At the time, I had been webmaster for PCGS for close to a year and Mrs. Kinder had seen all of the work I was doing for the college. The three of us had a brainstorming session and discussed a possible internship, helping BLUE with things like website redesign, social media management, marketing and content administration for the upcoming event in November. I was given the initial task of wrangling all of the existing and past social media footprint and developing a plan for how to best reengage followers, reconfigure existing media assets and ultimately reinvigorate participants and followers for the new year. However, this opportunity came during a time when there was a film submission process in action and over the years the process for submitting films had devolved into something quite difficult and time consuming to manage. BLUE needed a new method of receiving films for review, so my first action item was to build them a way for film creators to upload their videos directly into a single Youtube channel for review. This was difficult due to the fact that Youtube had recently disabled the ability for channels to allow community-style uploads. This meant I would have to build it with the Youtube API as a massive workaround. In fact, I have been told that the only other web app known to exist like this is used by Sundance Film Festival. You can imagine their excitement when I built this for them.
Next on the list was taking inventory of all media assets such as video submissions from previous years so that I might make them fresh again. We wanted to celebrate all of the wonderful submissions from previous film festivals to let contributors know that we haven’t forgotten about them in addition to providing some examples of the types of films we accept. In short, we needed a way to sift through the Youtube Channel videos outside of Youtube. So, I built a way to filter and jump to specific videos using a Google Spreadsheet at the database. You can see and play around with a demo of this project here, if you like.
In my next post, i’ll tell you why I left the Patel College as webmaster in order to convert my internship into a full time job. I’ll show you more of my work geared towards improving media outreach and helping BLUE reach their goals- helping the world thirst for knowledge about the oceans and how we can collaboratively mend the wounds we’ve dealt the oceans inn exchange for so much life.
Get Involved and Spread the Word
If you use social media and enjoy being involved in world changing projects, friend and follow BLUE Ocean Film Festival on the following platforms. Reach out to us if you would like to volunteer towards the efforts set forth and do your part to help increase ocean literacy worldwide.
For my project, I wanted to meet with the government ministers and get a pulse for what they feel is needed in order to create more jobs on the island and reduce poverty. Tourism seems to be one of the biggest ways to make that happen. What are your thoughts on tourism as an avenue for employment generation?
As you rightfully know, here in the Caribbean our choices are somewhat limited in terms of bringing economic activity to the country. The tradition here has been agriculture, but when Dominica and some of the other Caribbean islands lost preferential treatment in agricultural trade, we really couldn’t compete on the same scale as the larger nations. We can still sell our produce to other island nations, but it obviously does not generate the income as exporting to Europe once did. So now, many are turning to tourism as an economic driver. For example, countries are using a citizenship by investment program to create income. For families who have the means and interest in purchasing land or traveling, this is sometimes of interest for them.
Tourism is one of the major drivers for Dominica now because we see it as a way to create more jobs for our people. Entering the tourism market however is not without its challenges. One of the major challenges we’ve faced is how to promote the country. The average person does not know about Dominica. More than likely, they know of the Dominican Republic and so when they hear about Dominica they assume the Dominican Republic. But if they were to see our island and compared us to the Dominican Republic, there would be no mix up.
We have to be very clear with our marketing for the country. Spending is limited, so we cannot just cast out a wide net; we have to be very pointed with marketing. If we place our advertisements in front of people who are more interested in a white sand beach and drinking a tequila, as opposed to someone who is into nature and sustainability then we are marketing to the wrong crowd. But if can place our advertising in front of people who appreciate what we have to offer, then we we believe that we can provide the kind of experience that they are looking for. So the idea is to be very pointed with are marketing. We try to use technology and analytics that allow us to place our advertising in front of people who are interested in nature, healthy food, hiking and diving. Using analytics helps us to connect with the right people in a much shorter period of time and at a time of decision when they are actively in the market for a tropical destination like ours. We want Dominica to be a country where it is all about finding and re-finding yourself. Dominica is a place to come enjoy nature, taste wonderful food, meet friendly people and find yourself again.
Sustainability is also very important for us here in Dominica. We want our hotels to provide the type of experience that shows sensitivity to the environment. When you hear that Dominica is the “Nature Island” of the Caribbean and the world, you expect to see certain things when you come here. Something that we are concerned about right now is keeping our country clean. It all starts with us. I always use the phrase: “Garbage has no legs, no feet and no hands; garbage cannot walk or crawl. We are the ones that determine where garbage ends up.” We have the ability to reduce our impact upon the environment. We want visitors to see that our island is clean. One of the efforts I have embarked on is the cleanliness of the gutters in Roseau. We have guys that wake up at 5:00 AM in the morning to go out and clean the streets of the capital city. Rather than campaigning first, let us begin to clean first and set the example. Let us start the trend and then say, “Hey, I am Dominica and I do not litter.” A city that is cleaner, a city that doesn’t smell, a city that is not overrun with rats and cockroaches will be more pleasant for residents and more attractive to visitors. We are passing legislation that require restaurants to have grease and food traps so that waste is not running off into gutters and polluting our waters.
We also want to make Dominica more accessible. Sometimes booking travel to Dominica can be very difficult. Many travel agents do not know who we are, so we are joining different travel associations that will make more people of aware of who we are. We are trying to put our name in the Global Distribution System (GDS) so that more travel agents will have visibility of Dominica and so that when you go on those different search engines, Dominica will pop up more. Someone trying to book a flight to Dominica should have more information and options on how to get here. We can potentially lose around 20% of our business if someone goes to a travel agent wanting to book for Dominica, but not enough data is available quickly. After spending 15 to 20 minutes searching, the agent may suggest someplace else.
We want to increase our budget for marketing so that we can get more people to come to Dominica. If we can fix the awareness, we know that people will come here and have a fantastic experience. From the time a guest hits the ground, we want our customs and port officers to welcome them with a smile. We want our receptionists to be welcoming. We want our bus drivers to exemplify courtesy and safety. We want our hotel staff and bartenders to practice hospitality. We know that we will need to improve in all of these areas to make our tourism experience better and so that what a guest experiences matches what has been advertised. The government is making an effort to encourage this mindset and invest in developing these kinds of accommodations. We are looking for ways to promote our unique hotels, describe their various amenities and facilitate hotel bookings through a hotel booking system that can be utilized by guests to make and pay for a reservation online.
Another step for us would be to improve our human resources by ensuring that more people are properly trained and certified. We will utilize a strategy to train trainers in different areas of hospitality. This will not only improve our services, but it will help our workers feel more confident and content in their roles. A certified worker will be more marketable in the industry and more trained workers will raise the standards of excellence island-wide. We have to improve on our hotel stock and we have to ensure that the sites that our guests go to are more people friendly. We are more or less soft-adventure, but we are going to have people who come here who cannot walk to the waterfall. So at some point we are going to have to build a track that will make it possible for anyone to be able to see and enjoy beautiful waterfalls.
So the idea is that, if we can put all of these things in place: marketing, awareness, sustainability, accessibility, technology, hospitality and training; then more people will come to Dominica, more jobs will be required in the tourism industry and many others will be indirectly employed as a result of the influx of people. From the perspective of the Ministry of Tourism, we can make our stakeholders happier by attracting more people to our shores. We are guided by principles in our tourism master plan and we have tourism initiatives taking place around the island, but when all is said and done it is about creating as many jobs as possible.
What about tourism niches like agri-tourism where guests are taken out to visit farms or pesca-tourism where people are taken out on fishing excursions that support local fisherman and at the same time helps to mitigate the exploitation of fish populations?
As a tourism destination, Dominica is unique in that we are all about the experience as opposed to just spending your entire vacation just relaxing on one beach. What is offered at hotels on most of the other Caribbean islands is all-inclusive and they are more profitable by making it so that you never leave their hotel. Dominica is different because we want you to go out and explore. Passengers of a cruise ship in port can take an agri-tourism excursion to an organic farm, survey the island landscapes, learn about local practices, sample some of the produce and make a donation. One farmer said that the tips he made on the tour were more than he could make by selling the produce in the market. Tropical Storm Erica has damaged some of the roads that lead to those farms and the cruise ships are only here for a season, but these are still areas that we feel can benefit tourism in the local communities. We want to advise our hotel owners, stakeholders and potential entrepreneurs with some ideas that have been successful on other islands to see if they might be interested in capitalizing on some of those same tourism and ecotourism opportunities here.
How do you encourage communities to develop their own special tourism niches?
We have also been supporting Community Based Tourism so that individual communities can benefit from tourism. The reality is, if the communities do not benefit from tourism then they really do not care to uphold the standards that we would like to reflect. One of our better projects is the village of Mero, where the entire community has realized that the beach is a major asset. So now they make sure that the beach is clean and they ensure that the area is safe for people to come. Even among the locals, on a Sunday the number of Dominicans that visit Mero beach is amazing compared to what it was before. This is all a result of the tourism and cleanup efforts that have been put in place there.
There are other areas around the island where we are trying to encourage community-based tourism projects. In the North of the island, for example, we have the Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services, (PAYS), which provides nightly security in the harbor, island tours, hikes, dives and other services for people and their boats that are anchored in Prince Rupert Bay. This has been so successful that we are looking at the possibility of providing moorings for boats in other coastal areas of the island so that they too can offer similar services in those communities and introduce more customers to their shops who might purchase fresh produce, water, food and other items.
Another idea we have been thinking about is developing an App like Uber or Lift that not only provides transportation but also puts tour guides on board. So if you are visiting the island you can open up the App and find a tour guide in your area. There is a company out of Jamaica that does this. This app will give better visibility and improve the chances of persons in those respective areas of generating business as a result of this technical tool. Community tourism really makes a difference because it can decrease unemployment in specific areas and give people a sense of responsibility to care for and protect those areas.
If university students were to come to Dominica to complete their internship projects in the areas of tourism or entrepreneurship, what particular projects would you suggest?
I think that for short projects one of the best things that a university student could offer is training. That could be training in the areas of tourism or concepts in entrepreneurship and also some motivational speaking. Also, as previously mentioned we could certainly benefit from assistance with marketing and creating awareness about our Nature Island. In the area of technology, we could use some assistance in App development from computer programmers. Students could also assist in other areas like water and sewerage management.
It was really great for Senator Tonge to take the time to meet with me. We had a great conversation and the focus of his work was so fresh on his mind that he answered many of my questions even before I could ask them. Dominica offers so much in regard to ecotourism, adventure tourism, beautiful landscapes, healthy food and undisturbed natural environments. Though it’s tourism industry is relatively young, that is what makes it a great opportunity for entrepreneurship.
The company, ForestFinance, I do the intern has done a successful industry transformation, extending its market to cafeteria which combine coffee with chocolate. Recently, ¨Eat local, support local business¨ this slogan is popular buzz words in the Instagram Panamanian food sector. In my opinion, the emotion of the expanded Panama canal is not only driving patriotic mind but also rising local market trend to serve their food which indigents grown from local Panama. ForestFinance invested the chocolate maker Oro Moreno to form a relationship more than supplier and buyer or producer and clients. In this business model, the raw material of chocolate Cacao is provided from the plantations of the ForestFinance from the plantation of Boca del toro, Panama. And then they decide to do joint venture to open a Panamanian cultural style cafeteria in Casco Antiguo (old area), a zone where contains abundant historical sense of Panama. Therefore, from ForestFinance to Oro Moreno to the final costumer; just like their slogans explained how the expansion the business market to next level. Extended the market area from ” From tree to bar” to “From tree to shop”. ForestFinance established a completed supply chain which involved their business role as supplier and investor in order to achieve the maxima potential profit on each lucre of investment. Oro Moreno as a boutique chocolatier also cooperates with many local Panama upscale restaurants, worldwide well-known hotel chains, supermarkets even with international airport Tocumen. I think this is a really successful strategy to establish its reputation and target certain customer groups not only people local but also those travelers who have ability to purchase the chocolate at a not cheap price. Oro Moreno also will release the customize chocolate designed for special date cause holiday is extremely important to Panamanians. This kind of business model is small but I believe the profit is considerable. Cowgirl chocolates, a artisan chocolate company said “they strive to attain an average gross profit margin of 65 percent in its retail business, after ingredients and packaging”. And according to their official statement, they maintain successfully all their products gross profit margin between 58 % to 72 % (Timothea). Hence, I think this should be a good start for ForesFinance to step into another industry which also combine their professional forestal management knowledge. I´m looking forward to the opening ceremony in Casco Antiquo in this end of month!!
On July.6, I went to the conference which held by the Ciudad del saber and a private Bridge Innovation Capital. The topic of the conference is those opportunities to do business with China. The immigration and the population from china keep growing in Panama recently. The Chinese power has transcended into key influence player in aspects of society, economy and political power in over past 150 years. With my observation and the communication with people in Panama, the Chinese community is common to see in even rural area. They often are owners of mini supermarkets or restaurants; the local people give those shops a nickname as “chinitos”. There are existing two Chinese powers within those Chinese communities in panama which are power from Taiwan or China. Those two powers are vying the using right of the Panama Canal and country diplomatic recognition from Panama government. It is interesting for me as Taiwanese to participate this conference to know how those Panamanians to deal the economic power from both Chinese powers in panama if they would like to open the company in Taiwan or China, also the stereotype of Chinese people. However, those two Chinese powers compete with each other but also cooperate with each other, at least in Panama. They will support the organizations together such as “APROCHIPA”, which is association of business for Chinese-Panamanians in Panama in order to foster the economic power and influence to the global market.
[This photo I took with Sandra chung, the presidentof the APROCHIPA 2016.]
The other highlight of this blog is the promenade trip in the Valley Anton which located in the Coclé province of Panama. Drove about two hours from Panama City.
Because of its elevation so the weather over there is much cooler than lowland Panama city. This is a small volcanic town with lots of natural attractions, including the view of waterfall around the small town and hiking up to the mountain surrounded by the forest in comfortable temperature. In here, you also have a chance to see the Rana dorada Panameña (Panamanian golden frog or Atelopus zeteki) which is critically endanger toed and also is the national symbol of Panama. It is said that if you are lucky enough if you see it when the toad dies, because they will turn to complete gold when they died and it is believed to bring the good luck. So you also can see their image in state lottery ticket! Furthermore, there has a place to give you a small tour about the butterfly. I am most surprised that the pineapple and banana are part of the food for those butterflies!
[upper is golden frog, lower is butterflies with banana and pineapple.]
For some travelers, sun and fun on a popular beach surrounded by creature comforts, modern amenities, and easy accessibility to restaurants and shops is their idea of vacation. More and more people, however, are hoping to truly experience something unique in a place that is hard to get to, that is surrounded by sites and sounds entirely different than the familiarity of home and that involves a certain degree of adventure. Ecotourism is a way for people to really capture the pulse of a place and to discover the spectacular wonders of the natural environment. When I am in Dominica, I am always amazed at the sounds of birds at dawn and at dusk, I find peace in the quiet solitude of a mountain overlooking the sea, I feel the exhilaration of jumping into a crystal clear river and I tap into my sense of adventure with a hike through the cinematic rainforest. Exposure to these kinds of special experiences is the real magnetism behind ecotourism. Additional value comes in the preservation of the environment, the economic benefit to indigenous people and the introduction of guests to the cultural heritage.
Dominica is perhaps the greatest location for ecotourism in the entire Caribbean. It’s biodiversity is still intact and the cities have not been overdeveloped like other places of tourism. For that reason Dominica is often a destination for reality TV shows that showcase adventure travel, secluded resorts or extreme competitions. I have literally hiked a jungle trail, swam up a river gorge to a waterfall, and relaxed on a black sand beach all in the same day. You can easily experience a whole lot with a vehicle and a roadmap, but if you hire a local guide for the day you get the backstory to everything that you are witnessing. For example, you can travel to the village of Belles and hike the trails carved out by the maroons who had escaped into these forests during the days of slavery. An African chief name Jacko was the pioneer and leader of an entire encampment in the rainforest. Large steps, some three feet high, gave them an advantage over the French and English soldiers who had battled over this island for years. Ruins of military fortifications still exist in places like Cabrits National Park near the village of Portsmouth.
Dominica also offers the opportunity to connect with the living history of the Kalinagos, who are the largest remaining colony of Carib Indians in the world. Travel to their territory, taste the cassava-coconut bread, watch them make wooden boats by hand, purchase some of their intricately woven baskets and if your timing is right you can experience some of their cultural celebrations that reveal ancient dances and traditions. Their everyday lifestyle already reflects principles of sustainability and their new developments are considerate of these same values. Their cultural center, for example, is running on electricity generated by solar panels. I had the opportunity to meet the Kalinago chief and he said he would welcome the opportunity for university interns to come and help them develop new strategies that generate employment for their mountain community.
These days, information about cultures, cuisines and customs can be found on the internet and television, but it is so much better to encounter the people for yourself and enjoy a great big world beyond the screens that are always in our faces. I encourage you to discover Dominica at least once in your lifetime.
An interview with the Honorable Ian Douglas who serves the commonwealth of Dominica in leadership over the Ministry of Trade, Energy and Employment.
Dominica is considered to be the Nature Island of the Caribbean. With that standard, the government, the business community and the people are committed to developing a nation that is sensitive to sustainability principles. Around the island you will find solar panels on homes, street lights and other buildings; I even saw some photovoltaic panels over a Save-a-Lot grocery store and a KFC. You will also find hydropower, wind-power and the early stages of geothermal power. This opens up a great opportunity for USF students interested in sustainable energy to come to Dominica and experience firsthand the work conducted by engineers from Iceland and the development to come. There are high hopes that the geothermal project will reduce electricity prices, provide jobs and encourage more business development. I was able to interview the Minister of Trade, Energy and Employment to discuss how these three areas contribute to Dominica’s overall Green Economy.
With the demand for organic agriculture rising, how is Dominica fulfilling that demand and ensuring that these products are making it to market in good condition?
Because of the shelf life of many products, getting to the market in good condition can be a challenge. So we are working with the boat owners right now to equip them with refrigeration, cold storage and capacity onboard their boats to get the produce into the markets and on the shelves in the condition that the customer would want it. We have also invested in multi-purpose stock houses. All the stuff leaving Dominica, must go through these stock houses so that they are properly washed, sorted and packed properly. This is a multi-pronged approach. We are an agency committed to raw standards. Another thing that we are doing is certifying the farms to make sure that the farming practices of the farmers conform to this kind of conveyor belt system from the farm to the market. We are looking at all of the aspects up and down the product chain to ensure that what eventually ends up on the market is what the brand says it is.
Are there any plans for marketing to the U.S. or other nations?
Our exports are more or less targeted toward the regional, Caribbean markets. There are a lot of requirements for products entering the U.S. from Dominica, so initially, our export strategy is to grow our smaller markets like Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Martin, and Anguilla and then eventually move on to some larger markets. We have our eyes set on expanding to places like St. Thomas, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico which are U.S. territories but we will need to grow incrementally and get more transportation involved. As we open more markets and create more demand for Dominican products, then we can encourage our farmers to produce more. Creating the demand is important. If we ask Dominican farmers to produce more now, but we cannot get those products to the market, then we will consequentially create a glut which will discourage the market because the farmer cannot sell. Therefore, we have to grow slowly and do it right.
We have to be able to enter the market and sustain it because what the supermarkets are looking for is consistency, regularity and reliability. We cannot send 10,000 pounds of ripe bananas today and then the following week only send a box; that just doesn’t make sense. So, we also have to stagger our production. Farmers have typically planted around the seasons, but now they will need to plant non-traditionally to ensure that they can sustain regularity on the market.
What challenges in trade have those in the agriculture sector faced in Dominica?
Back in 1998, Dominica made over a hundred million dollars sending bananas to the United Kingdom. We, along with some other small island nations were given preferential treatment because of the 400 years of exploitation that England had engaged in throughout the Caribbean. For those in the U.S. and around the world who supported Dole, Chiquita and Del Monte bananas, they believed that Dominica and other small islands had an unfair advantage and that they should compete on the same level as all other nations of the world. Consideration was not given to fact that small islands had less arable land, and smaller population sizes that could not compete on the level of those nations with hectares of agriculture bigger than the whole size of Dominica and which could easily out produce the island nations in quantity. When Dominica lost preferential treatment on the U.K. market, the price of bananas dropped, the farmer couldn’t produce for the price that he was getting, the boxes used to contain the bananas were costing more than its contents and many had to abandon their fields. This disillusioned some farmers, but we are determined to find our way in the market.
What other commodities will Dominica export and to what other destinations?
Bananas, both green and ripe; ground provisions including potatoes, sweet-potatoes, dasheen, yams; vegetables, especially those that have a longer shelf-life like cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbages, teas, spices, fruit and others. We just spent about 5 million dollars (XCD), developing two new buildings in both Portsmouth and Roseau and equipping them with a conveyor-belt system for washing, sorting, spraying, weighing, packaging and preparing produce for export.
The government had considered investing in a transport vessel for export, but it was determined that the issue wasn’t so much a lack of vessels but rather upgrading existing vessels and organizing them with better direction and more efficient trade routes. Some boats were traveling to St. Martin and back, but in between Dominica and St. Martin are other islands like Montserrat, St. Kitts, Antigua, and Anguilla among others, which are not being serviced. Those vessels traveling to Martinique, for example, could easily add Barbados as an additional stop on their trade route. There is a bigger market out there and we need to be more proactive about helping these vessels expand their routes and providing the facilitation that they need. The regular markets for Dominica, right now, include Martinique, Guadeloupe, Antigua and St. Martin. The next step would be to market to the greater Caribbean region and then grow from there. We hope to expand into Anguilla, Tortola, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Thomas, and St. John.
There are some things that are produced here in Dominica that would certainly be of interest to other economies. Two in particular would be coconut oil and bay oil. Producers of these products are doing very well. The Ministry of Trade is requesting some funding for them so that they can improve their packaging and labeling and so they can purchase more machinery which will enable them to supply more volume to the market.
How could marketing better reflect what Dominica has to offer?
We could definitely improve our marketing on the internet; I don’t believe we do enough web based commodity marketing because it takes a lot of funding. Even with tourism marketing, we only spend about 4 million (XCD) per year marketing the country and about half of that goes to trade shows leaving very little for e-marketing. This is a lot less than other competing small islands like Grenada and St. Vincent who spend about 10 million per year in marketing. Barbados probably spends about 20 million in marketing which enables them to capture even more of the world’s attention. This is not even considering the larger island economies like Jamaica and Trinidad. We are increasing our marketing budget to about 6 million for next year and are very hopeful for the future. The same goes for commodity marketing, we are going to have to put more into it.
Recently, eight representatives from Dominica, including a member from the Dominica Export Import Agency (DEXIA), a farmer, the manager of the multi-purpose packing houses, the director of training and others went on a trade mission within the Caribbean. The team traveled to around six or seven different islands and they returned saying that there is definitely a demand for Dominican produce which has developed a reputation for being fresh and tasty. The challenge facing Dominica is the ability to enter the market with the necessary quantity and reliability necessary to maintain those trade relationships.
Do you have high hopes for Dominica’s new coffee industry?
Absolutely. I believe that Dominica’s coffee can rival Jamaica’s Blue Mountain Coffee easily because we have the elevation. Dominica is one of the most mountainous places, per square mile, on the face of the earth. Dominica also has the volcanic soil and tropical environment that have also proven great for growing coffee.
Ultimately, what we would like to do is brand Dominica as a totally organic, sustainable, renewable energy island. That is why we are going after the geothermal so much, because it presents so much potential for us to be able to reach that goal. Already in tourism, we are marketing the island for the ecotourism; if we can do that in other aspects, then the entire island itself can, in fact, become a showcase for sustainable living.
I’ve heard that in the long run, geothermal energy is the most affordable, most renewable source of energy but that the initial investment can be very expensive. How has Dominica financed their geothermal project and what is the present state of development?
Yes, it is true, the project has cost us an arm and a leg up front but the outcome can be very beneficial for Dominica. We have drilled about five holes so far, tested the power, purchased turbines and spent about 100 million, 40% of which has been made up of local funding. We also received some assistance from the E.U. Engineers from Iceland assisted us with the drilling and testing and now we are ready to move on to the turbine stage which again will cost us around 70 to 80 million. It is believed that up to 120 megawatts of power can be generated from the wells. Dominica only needs between 10 and 15 megawatts, which allows for the potential to export energy to neighboring islands. Our geothermal wells are not just dry heat or wet steam either, they spring up hot water. We pump the hot water up, separate the steam from the water, and then re-inject the water back into the well.
Initially we were working with the French because we knew that viability of the whole project was in the export of the geothermal power to Martinique and Guadeloupe. We believed that a partnership with a French Consortium of companies could assist with this project, but they are holding out for now. Nevertheless, we will pursue our small plant on our own because our government has a particular agenda and a commitment to the people for the reduction of our light bills and we need to be able to deliver that. We are putting together a geothermal development company to move the project forward. The government will have a majority of the shares but we are going to open up the opportunity for other companies and individual investors to buy shares and have some equity in the company.
Would you be open to university students coming out to learn and volunteer with the geothermal project?
We would love that.
How does the geothermal project open up opportunity for job creation?
If we drop the price of electricity, more companies will be able to come here for manufacturing. Businesses will be able to allocate funds for expansion and new hires. Hotels will be able to offer more affordable room rates. The price of electricity right now is just prohibiting. For many of our hotels, the price of electricity makes the room rate uncompetitive and for that reason, some our hotels right now are self generating with off grid energy systems. All of this puts the need for the development of a renewable energy source as a top priority. If too many people are self generating, it could threaten the viability of the grid system and compromise the ability to make electricity available to everyone at a fair price. Geothermal energy will allow us to drop the price of electricity by more than 50% per kilowatt hour. Right now the price is around 55 to 60 U.S. cents per kWh and we need to drop that to around 15 and 20 cents per kWh to be competitive. One of the other spinoffs of geothermal is hydrogen gas which can potentially be used to power our vehicles. Even electric cars could plug up and be charged through our geothermal power generation.
What are some recommendations going forward for anyone interested in getting involved?
For the geothermal it could be investment into the geothermal company. For trade it could be marketing and getting Dominican products out on the shelves of other countries. Dominica can readily produce ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric and other spices and herbal remedies that are gaining popularity. Dominica also has a brand new coffee production facility which needs some investors and farmers to realize that potential. Dominica could also export various teas which are not limited to the black and green teas but also include the basillic, sorrel and other gourmet teas. Pureed fruits like mango, guava, pawpaw, and sweetsop could also be made ready for export.
How can village communities benefit from regional/international trade?
There are agents here called hucksters who go into the villages to buy produce for export from local farmers who on their own cannot reach the regional/international markets. The hucksters handle all of the shipping details and often times serve as agents for their local governments for importing particular agricultural products. Though the local farmer does not deal directly in the trade, they are benefiting from the additional sale of products beyond their local area.
Dominica is such a wonderful place that the world needs to see. What else would you say is advantageous about your green economy?
Being the Nature Island of the world, we are at a comparative advantage and we have the resources like fresh water, geothermal energy, and quality produce coming out of our soil to prove it. Using sustainability principles to our advantage, we can bring about economic stability in Dominica.
Mr. Douglas and I had a great conversation and some good laughs too. Looking to the future, I believe that at the Patel College of Global Sustainability, we have a world of opportunity in partnering with Dominica and their sustainability initiatives. – Jerry John Comellas
I visited village San Jose which is where my project conducted once a week in past few weeks in Panama. What I’m doing is community observation within this small remote village, using my eyes to explore this small village, as well as, using the camera to recode the village life. The hardest part of the observation record is that I would never know what the people said in the next minute, therefore it is a huge challenge for me in understanding the Spanish or taking note on the paper. I am so thankful for their patient and the help from my supervisor. Those people who live in the village might not have a wealth material life. There is no air conditioner, no TV and even no flash toilet but I always can see their big smile on their faces and their kindness heart and hostility. The residents even greeted with you no matter where you are or who you are. During these weeks of my staying in Panama, the life experiences itself to me are just like a series of class of life and spirit. Last weekend, I went to San Blas islands constitute more than 360 small sand island located in Caribbean ocean. The indigenous called Kuna Yala live in such rustic and condition on the islands as their ancestors. During the island life for three days, I enjoyed the reefs and snorkeling, furthermore, understand a bit about the culture of the Kuna people. They believe they come from two angels and have a matriarchal society also they speak in an unwritten language called Kuna language throughout the community, instead of Spanish. The Kuna manage their tribe identity and contentedly lead a life balanced with ocean and natural. Sometimes, people just forget how to live with simple and treat people with their hearts purely. As the results, human don’t cherish what they owned and keep over-wasting the natural resources. It turns out take everything as granted. The most valuable thing I had learnt from the village or in island is that wealth doesn’t mean you have better quality of life. Your attitude determined your desire and your life altitude.
Had a great interview with local resident family in San Jose this week.
Ireland has been a wild ride and I am more than half way through my trip (I am both excited and a little sad about this). The beginning was very rough for me but I am doing much better now and I honestly feel a sense of melancholy when I think about going back home.
I have met some amazing people so far, including the people I live with (other Stinters), my coworkers and people I have just met through social gatherings. I am finding that Ireland is a very friendly place with so much history and beauty. I have not explored much outside of Dublin because I am planning a full week of traveling around the country at the end of my trip but I have been exhilarated by what I have seen so far. There are parts of Ireland that are so picturesque, yet pictures never seem to do it justice. I am truly looking forward to my last week here, especially because my girlfriend and my mom will be here. We plan on visiting the most famous cathedrals here in Dublin, Trinity College and its library, Howth (second time for me) because it is so beautiful, the Cliffs of Moher, castles, the Blarney Stone and much more!
Even though I have not explored much of the country yet, I have still had the time of my life here in Dublin, creating a new (though short-lived) life for myself and I know that this experience will change my life forever. This experience has taught me to be brave and courageous; it has taught me more about how to be a leader and a go-getter. These are all abilities that will help me through every walk of life. I have also been very inspired in terms of sustainability because many parts of Ireland are still very old and inefficient, meaning that the country could greatly benefit from sustainability efforts. I am constantly thinking of ways to improve upon the three pillars: people, planet, profit. I am also noticing though that other places, including the United States, could benefit from taking some plays out of the Irish playbook in order to simplify and become more sustainable. Lifestyles here seem to be so much simpler and at times, I find it very refreshing.
My internship has been very insightful and I am hoping to complete a research masterpiece by the time I leave here. Maybe my paper won’t get published but I am hoping it will at least be a good read and will get me the A I am looking for so that I can complete grad school with almost a 4.0!
Although the purpose of being here is to participate in this internship and write a paper in order to graduate and gain experience for my future career path, I also know that it is just important that I soak up as much of this country and its beauty as I can. It is important for me to remember that this is an adventure that I will never forget and I need to grab life by the horns right now. I am incredibly thankful that my school encourages us to take internships abroad and I completely understand why now. Traveling abroad is one of the most eye-opening experiences, especially – in my opinion – for sustainability professionals. It is tough to pursue a career path that involves every part of the planet if you only have one perspective to work from. So, again, I couldn’t be happier about my being here because I know it will help me grow as a person and as a professional.
These last couple of weeks in Ireland have been constructive, both on a personal level and in regards to my internship. Let’s start with the internship news and save the fun stuff for last 😉
A couple of weeks ago, I helped man a booth at a local farmer’s market type event to help Energy Action acquire some pledges. Although we were not very successful, we definitely made some fantastic contacts that could prove to be very beneficial in the future. Also, this even was very beneficial to me because I found my new favorite market :). There is one booth that has the most delicious raspberry tart I have ever tasted and walking to this market to shop and grab a raspberry tart has become a Saturday ritual. In addition to this event, I also found out I will be attending an event in Co. Kildare called The Marigold Festival Series. Apparently this event has been a success for Energy Action in the past and they are hoping to spread the word about SPIRIT at the event this year. I am really looking forward to it! The past week was probably the most exciting for me though, because I was given the opportunity to propose some ideas I have for the project as they directly relate to my research. I began by explaining that I was aware of the issues we were facing in terms of engaging religious communities in the project and that I had some suggestions. My main suggestion was to start by determining the values of the communities being approached, rather than just trying to give the communities information on the program and hoping they will be interested enough to get involved. Determining the values of these communities will help in properly communicating the value of the project and the value of energy conservation to the individual communities. If the ultimate goal is to energize faith-based communities to influence individual behavior change, simply providing them information is not always going to encourage action. A project like this takes a lot of work on the part of the religious leaders and the individual community members themselves; it is important to illustrate the true benefits in a way that is meaningful, which varies based on the audience. Another one of my ideas was to email the Executive Director of an organization called GreenFaith, whose mission is similar to that of the SPIRIT program, to see if he could offer any insight. The feedback was more than I could have hoped for – my boss was impressed and inspired by my ideas. Since my boss liked the idea of emailing the Executive Director of GreenFaith so much, he allowed me to be the point of contact and I was able to arrange a Skype conference with the Executive Director that will take place next week.
Now, for the fun stuff. I live in a house full of wonderful roommates that love to go out and explore, even if that just means taking a walk down the canal behind our house and stopping at some place new. We have been to dinner a couple of times, we have been to a few local pubs, we have gone shopping on Grafton Street and down by the River Liffey and we are always thinking of new places to see and things to do. A couple of nights ago, we took about a 40-minute walk along the canal down to the Docklands, got some ice cream and sat at the dock with the Bord Gais Energy Theater behind us and the water in front of us. Yesterday evening, we attended a science gallery at Trinity College and I was ecstatic to find out that the theme was sustainability. Unfortunately, it was quite packed so I couldn’t take many pictures but some of the exhibits were so interesting. A lot of the ideas had to do with converting everyday waste from consumer products into new, environmentally friendly and even edible products. Tomorrow we are planning to take a hike up the Dublin mountains and I am planning a weekend trip to Phoenix Park, one of the largest parks in Europe. Most of my countryside exploring, however, will happen during my last week here in Ireland.
There are a routine number of activities that are common among the locals on the weekends: Saturdays involve time in the garden, going to the market and washing clothes; Sundays are about going to church, eating a big lunch and taking a long nap. And when time allows, you fill find them hiking forest trails, swimming in the river or relaxing on the beach.
For me personally, I just spent a whole week lining up appointments, creating surveys, making phone calls, sending emails, popping in to government office buildings, connecting with tourism organizations and networking with people on the island for the development of my capstone internship project. So to get a little down time over the weekend has been a real joy. On Saturday I participated in an amazing ecotourism adventure called Hike Fest, which I will write about in another blog. So let me tell you what I did today.
Today is Sunday. After attending a local church service filled with island style music, dancing, special artistic presentations by the youth and some powerful preaching, I decided to hike into the jungle forest to try and find that cocoa fruit that I had promised to show you guys. As I made my way to the trail head I could smell the lemon grass that had recently been cut and all the evidence of a tropical island was around me. The Caribbean Sea was shimmering in the distance. Village streets were lined with trees adorned by mangos, bananas, kokoi-plantains, limes, soursop, breadfruit and pawpaws (papayas). I passed three kinds of nut trees too – coconut, almonds and cashews. (I try to avoid the cashew tree even though it has a tasty plum; I’ve learned the hard way that tampering too much with a raw cashew nut can cause a severe allergic reaction.) Moving on.
As I entered the trail I was greeted by five baby goats that were leaping on and off of a large stone – cute and curious. The trail meandered along a river which created the soundtrack for my afternoon trek. I found several guava trees along the trail but the fruit was still green; so I helped myself to some of the young red leaves to make into a delicious tea later on. I located some cocoa (cacao) trees but most of the fruit that remained had already dried up. Finally I found a ripe one, but it was so high up I couldn’t get to it. I started to climb the tree, but I had to step on a termite mound… so I changed my mind. I threw a couple of rocks at the cocoa even making a direct hit but that thing was not coming down.
I decided to walk further up the mountain trail toward one of the Waitikubuli entry points (the Waitikubuli is the longest hiking trail in the Caribbean). This segment of the trail has a primitive but adventurous swinging bridge like a scene right out of a movie. Passion Flowers, Flamboyant Trees and wild Caribbean Orchids gave color to the green landscape. Bananaquit birds were chirping loudly all around me, Green Throated Carib Hummingbirds buzzed by quickly then darted into the trees and two Jaco Parrots squawked overhead. At last I found more chocolate trees and one of them was ripe and in reach. Hooray!
The walk back home was just as nice and natural as the walk up the trail and it concluded with a not as natural dip in the swimming pool, but hey, I’m not complaining. Come discover Dominica for yourself.