Taken from “Caribbean Sketches” by Roger Burnett


A State of Self-Sufficiency

In earlier commentaries, I have alluded to self-sufficiency. I will now risk getting into deep water by enlarging on my vision of what Dominica could aspire to. Let me warn you from the onset, my vision will not please everyone. Furthermore, it does not offer a quick-fix solution for the difficulties we face in the wake of Hurricane Maria. My vision is long term. It will take at least a generation to move from one mindset to another.

I know of no other equivalent place on earth that has the resources to achieve this elusive self-sufficient state. Perhaps this is why larger nations take an envious interest in us. We are potentially the world’s richest nation and yet we wallow in poverty and dependency. Why? Because we hanker after a lifestyle that Dominica is incapable of sustaining.

If you want street lights through the Forestry Reserve, my vision of Dominica is not for you. Likewise: houses designed for a temperate lifestyle rather than tropical living; large-scale manufacturing plants, mass tourism and vehicles of which 50% of the gadgetry, cost and fuel consumption is superfluous for the core task of getting you from one place to another. On the trajectory that Dominica is presently pursuing we will need an International Airport, but for my vision of Dominica, we don’t. There will be less toing and froing. We will be content to stay put and our visitors will be long-term.

My vision of self-sufficiency – which is in effect a true form of independence – goes beyond growing what we eat and eating what we grow. We have the resources to provide 80% of what a simpler lifestyle needs. By “simple” I am not advocating going back to the dark ages. Just as we have realised that black is beautiful we must also realise that the simple can be profound.

While the rest of the region pursues a “climate-smart zone”, by developing self-sufficiency, individually and as a nation, we will end up smarter than they are. Self-sufficiency equates to resilience, be it climate or anything else.

In my Self-Sufficient Building Code:

Each house will have a secure space that can shelter a family and their valuables in a hurricane. There will be no need to run to a community shelter and leave everything behind.

Each house will generate its own electricity, by wind, water or sun. There will be no need to carry mains electricity about on poles which, with our terrain and climate, is as un-resilient as you can get!

Each house will have its own cistern and not be reliant on piped water.

I am all for embracing technology. Two hundred years ago it was thought that the machine would free man from universal toil, whereas in fact it robbed him of his skills and made him a slave to the factory production line. Perhaps now, the technology that is embedded in the internet can go a long way to achieving that earlier goal. For a start, it could enable many to work from their home environment, rather than spending the beginning and end of each day commuting to an office.

The sketch of a banana plantation that illustrates this commentary is not meant to harp back to the days of “green gold”, but to look forward to even greater potentials that this crop could offer Dominica. In an earlier commentary, I wrote about my success in using the high cellulous content of banana stems for paper making. Even more valuable are the stem’s filaments: they can make a fabric finer than silk and have the strength to reinforce automobile tyres. Similar potentials hold true for what is presently discarded as trash from other crops.

In my vision of what Dominica could aspire to, citizenship will not be sold but it may be earned. Projects will be initiative led, not funding fed. Our education system will adapt to serve Dominica’s needs rather pursuing syllabuses prescribed by others. Creative thinking will be high on the agenda. We will re-learn skills and develop an awareness of beauty. While we laud this “Isle of Beauty” in our National Anthem, future generations may rightly accuse us of despoiling their legacy with insensitive development. Mistakes in concrete are difficult to undo.

If you consider my vision far-fetched, I can assure you that tens of thousands of highly educated professionals in the rest of the developed world have already subscribed to a simpler, self-sufficient lifestyle.

As a design engineer I need to be innovative and my task as an artist is to calm those who are disturbed and to disturb those who are calm. In other words, to get you seeing and thinking differently. I, therefore, make no apology to those I may have disturbed by visualising something radically different for Dominica.

Roger Burnett

Antrim, December 27th 2017

The drawing that illustrates this commentary is taken from my book “Caribbean Sketches”.