Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Future of St Helena

Anyone who keeps in touch with St. Helena cannot fail to be concerned about the current situation.

Plan A was for the island to become self sustaining. HMG was going to build an airport, and an influx of high value tourists was going to develop the economy and ultimately eliminate dependence on the UK. There was always some scepticism on the island as to whether this strategy would work. When HMG announced a pause in plans to build the airport, and expressed doubt as to whether in the future tourism would recover/develop to the extent assumed because of the global economic crisis, it became apparent that there is no Plan B.

In the short term the island is also facing disruption of its lifeline. Both engines of the RMS St Helena are to be replaced - necessitating two periods in the dry dock in Cape Town in 2010.

Looking at it as an outsider it seems to me that some kind of air link is essential: to enable families to visit at shorter notice than is presently possible, and to enable those requiring emergency medical treatment to be moved quickly. It clearly will never be possible to have the highest standards of medical care available on an island with a population of only 4000. Whether the island needs the expensive airport previously proposed is another matter. In a rational world a low cost air link to Ascension would seem the most sensible solution, but I fear there are strong political reasons which would make that impossible.

The island also will need some way of getting freight by sea. I suspect that the most effective solution remains a dedicated ship to service the needs of this and the other islands in the South Atlantic. The replacement of the RMS engines suggests an intention that it will continue to ply between South Africa and St Helena for a number of years. At some point a replacement will be needed. Last year I read that the French were going to export wine to the UK by sailing ship. Whilst not advocating a return to sail for St Helena, I do wonder whether in the very long run a wind assisted ship might be a sensible way of reducing the costs of transport to the island. One thing the South Atlantic is not short of is wind! Probably far too visionary - but Napoleon would have loved the idea.

One final thing that visitors raise all the time is the question of growing more food. In a much earlier blog I pointed out that the allotments offered by the French Consul had few takers. It was also apparent that the land at Plantation House was not fully cultivated. I understand that there are numerous pests and diseases which frustrate vegetable growers on the island, but these problems and their solutions are surely within the realms of human knowledge - and hopefully do not need visits from expensive consultants.

On our recent trip to Cuba we found organoponicos in all the towns we visited. These are concrete raised beds which allow vegetables to be grown anywhere, regardless of the soil conditions which are usually poor. There are even such plots close to the centre of Havana. (1)

Obviously there are problems in developing similar solutions in St Helena - but they are organisational, not technical. I wonder for example how much organic waste is composted on St. Helena - or does all the compost come on the RMS?

Nobody is going to get rich growing vegetables on St Helena. Nevertheless, everything I have read indicates to me that food is not likely to get cheaper in the foreseeable future, and that a community so vulnerable to energy costs ought to replace as much of its imports as possible. Gardening is also a healthy activity, which is worth encouraging for its own sake. I imagine that a Cuban consultant would be fairly cheap, and might even bring a breath of fresh air to the island! Now I am getting really visionary -maybe entering the realms of fantasy even.

(1) These are a relatively recent development in Cuba. Gardening was looked down on in pre 1990 Cuba, and was seen as a sign of poverty and under development; but it became necessary when Cuba could no longer obtain food imports from the eastern bloc on whom it had relied for most of its foodstuffs.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Vive l'Empereur!

¡Bienvenido/a lector/a! Esta aventura por recorrer Europa -principalmente- de la mano del Emperador Napoleón Bonaparte (1769-1821) nació hoy, 30 de Abril 2009, día en el que por casualidad, Napoleón vendió Luisiana a los Estados Unidos por 80 millones de francos.