What is the origin of your innovation? Tell your story.
Over the past 35 years, I have worked with small farmers and farm workers in several Caribbean and Latin American countries as well as West and East Africa, developing ways of combining strategies for food production, environmental conservation and institutional capacity strengthening with issues of heritage, culture, family and community. This journey was started because my professional training as a soil scientist and agricultural economist taught me that the real impediments to food supply, wealth creation, stable communities and just societies were not technological. I understood then and believe even more now, that the real path to sustainable living is empowerment of local communities based on recognition and respect for their local knowledge and expertise, the true building blocks of sustainable living.
When I had the opportunity to become a Minister of Government in my country Dominica, first in 1979 and again in 2000, I was reminded that “nothing grows from the top, down” and that the failure of local, national and international governance structures to be guided by that simple fact is at the heart of much of the continued poverty, food deprivation, instability and social and environmental degradation that we see.
I am fully convinced that since “the chain is as strong as its weakest link” real change comes only when we invest in strengthening the weakest links, our abandoned rural villages and communities. It must be the mission of those engaged in the ’modern’ service sectors like tourism, to note the lesson of the chain and recognize the need to build these sectors on the basis of partnerships with the rural/agricultural sectors of our countries.
The levels of knowledge and skill that reside in these abandoned communities wait to be placed at the service of the people who dwell there as well as the others in the towns and cities of the world.
Dominica is a small island that has had the fortune of avoiding the environmental degradation that has visited many other places and where the strength of local community participation and empowerment remains a common practice. I truly believe that projects like this Community Gardens and Culinary Tour which arise from the community have the capacity to show the way.
We all have a decision to make. We can continue along the path of imitating the ‘development’ strategies still promoted by the international donor and financial community and face the prospects of more conflict for dwindling resources, accelerated climate change, exploding poverty amidst food scarcity and war within and between nations. Or, we can decide that this is the wrong path and look to innovations from the local communities that have managed to survive in the midst of global chaos. We can accept that there is local knowledge that can ensure adequate supplies of quality food for all, preserve and protect vital water and soil resources and raise the esteem of local knowledge and experience to its rightful place among the more acknowledged bodies of knowledge sitting the Universities libraries of the world.
We can start each time as we did in Giraudel/Eggleston, with an idea that challenges us to inventory our strengths, apply them to the task of making things better for ourselves and sharing that knowhow with others who wish to escape the treadmill of supervised poverty that is the lot of so many. The simple truth is, “the people know how” and we remain confident that one day we shall be able to take that to the bank.