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Editors note:This article was published in the Feb 27 issue of The Chronicle Newspaper

In the midst of a global economic downturn, cottage industries in Dominica ought to play a very important role in the economy of the country, and the government needs to do more to facilitate their development and sustainability.

Cottage industries exist where families produce marketable items with simple tools, through the work of family members only. They do not rely on expensive machinery, technical inputs or hired labor. Dominica has enormous potential to expand existing cottage industries – in pottery, leatherwork, woodwork, and various types of handicraft – and develop new ones.

In both rural and urban areas, thriving cottage industries would yield enormous benefits. In country areas, they would help farmers to supplement their main earnings from agriculture. In urban areas, they would provide full-time employment to persons who cannot find jobs, as well as offer part-time employment for those with jobs who want to increase their earnings.

It is not certain whether any accurate data exists regarding the contribution existing cottage industries make to Dominica’s economy, but there is no question that the revenues they generate are vital to the sustenance of many families and are essential to the country’s economic well-being. Moreover, they promote the attainment of marketable skills and create sources of income where none would otherwise exist.
The Roosevelt Skerrit administration has been very resourceful when it comes to raising funds for large capital investment projects like the Windsor Park Stadium, the Melville Hall airport and the “housing revolution”. It is time for government to show equal inventiveness with regard to sourcing funds for setting up cottage industries, as well as ensuring that Dominicans have access to sound advice on how to run small businesses.

It would be a mistake to underestimate the economic power of local cottage industries. Some of the products that these small industries produce have the potential to be world class. The government needs to direct more funds and technical expertise towards the expansion of these cottage industries and help develop the quality and marketing of the products so that there is increasing demand for them within the country and abroad.

It is clear that many of Dominica’s cottage industries need fiscal and tax incentives in order to get off the ground. The government has a responsibility to come up with practical development strategies and appropriate incentives to help them. With correct policy interventions and incentives, there is every reason to expect local cottage industries to develop exponentially, with all the attendant benefits to the economy.
Government has to take up the challenge of revitalising existing cottage industries and creating new ones across the island. To create an enabling environment for cottage industries, Government has to make distinct and affirmative moves. Any restrictions or taxation on cottage industries in Dominica must be reasonable and relevant; and any bureaucratic registration processes must be streamlined or eliminated.

Government can do much more to support this economic sector. Unless Government sends a clear signal of support, cottage industries would tend to shy away from any interaction with officialdom in the fear that this would lead to restrictions, increased taxation and other disincentives.

Government’s role is to create the right business climate for cottage industries by providing a wide range of incentives, and by pro-actively implementing appropriate policies, systems and legislation.

What some other ways you believe government can create the right business climate for the cottage industry in Dominica. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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domelargeIllustration by:Jan Feindt

Editor’s note:This post was guest blogged by Dan Tanner of dan-ruth-tanner.com

The New York Times today had an article entitled “Trickledown Downsizing” talking about how, in the current recession, those who had hired domestic help were being forced to lay that help off. I noticed immediately that the first layoff mentioned involved a woman from Dominica.

I personally know of three Dominicans residing in the US who could face the same thing. One works as a nanny, the two others make their living in home renovations. The two in the renovation field don’t have regular long-term jobs with families as do domestics, but with incomes down, job insecurity up, and credit tight, their prospects for renovation contracts are severely dimmed.

Worse, all three of these hard workers are not legally entitled to live or work in the US. Thus, they’re worse off than even the legal working poor laid-off in the US, because they can’t claim unemployment insurance, food stamps, etc. without risking deportation. If things get worse for them in the US, although they had once not only supported themselves but also had rent money home to help their families, they may decide to return to Dominica and instead rely on their families for a place to live. At least you can’t easily starve in Dominica, and you certainly can’t freeze.

History repeats. My natural father arrived in the US from Hungary, a teenager with his family fleeing Nazi persecution, only to struggle with the Great Depression. My mother’s family came to America from Austria under the same circumstances, with my mother’s father previously having had to become an exile from Belarus, his birthplace because of tsarist anti-semitic pogroms. They did not have the option of return open to them. My adoptive father emigrated to the US from Switzerland to work on rich peoples’ estates as a landscaper and gardener, and the life savings he built up were lost in a depression-era bank failure. He could have returned to his homeland, but his first wife was too ill to make the trip. They stayed, she died, World War II intervened, he met my recently-divorced mother, they married, and so on.

I can’t say that everything happens for the best. We all are victims of circumstances, carried in the stream by forces larger than any of us — depressions, recessions, wars, life-and-death, chance meetings. We must simply all make do. I’m writing this two days before we move to Dominica to live in retirement. We were lucky to have sold our house in the US (although it would have fetched more a few years ago, and took longer to sell), and our invested savings, upon which we will depend on for old-age income, are worth perhaps 60% of what they were a year or two ago, at least we can make the move. In old age, recovery isn’t available.

At least the lessons my wife learned from her parents and which I also learned from mine and my adoptive father too set us up well enough to get by. They taught us to be thrifty; to know the difference between what we need and what we want, and between what we could afford and what we could not. They also taught us that education was a way out of poverty and upward through economic class; that is something that we could always use, which would become more valuable through experience and wisdom gained, and which we could pass to our children, share, sell, or give away yet leave us richer, not poorer.

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As Dominicans looks towards new general elections in Dominica in 2010, there are many strategies that local political parties can adopt from the Obama presidential campaign. In fact the Dominica Freedom Party has already adopted one: the DFP said it intends to raise money via the internet. But that strategy many h ave limited success since only about ten percent of Dominicans now have access to the internet.

One other lesson we can learn from the Obama campaign it that polities do not always have to be nasty and can be based on the discussion of issues rather than the slinging of mud. Dominican politicians would benefit from emulating the graciousness that john McCain showed after he lost the elections.

Yes, Obama was tough on McCain and his connection to Bush but he did not delve in the gutter polities than the Republicans have developed into an art form. Is it too naive to expect Dominican politicians to adopt a new style to politics and grow out of the corrupt political culture that, unfortunately have characterized election campaigning in the past.

There is no doubt that Obama’s success has made a massive impact on the psyche of Dominicans, and with words like “Yes, we can” and “Change we can believe in” echoing through everyone minds, we may be advised to seriously consider the things we need to change if we are interested in building a secure future for Dominica.

If Dominican politicians are to embrace the example of the Republicans and Democrats, there is one issue that has to be settled. That is electoral reform. Elections must not only be free and fair but must be perceived to be free and fair.

Finally, Dominicans have to change their general attitude to work. It’s obvious that unless there is a great improvement in production and productivity in all sectors, there will not be any positive changes in the level of employment, and Dominica’s brains and brawn will continue to migrate. There are just a few of the changes we should believe in as an island nation.

What are some other changes you think Dominicans on a whole should believe in. let’s hear them in the comments.

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