Tag Archives: sustainable development

Plastic Waste Emergency in Caribbean Sea: What is the Region Doing About It?

Alicia Nicholls

The 2.75 million square km Caribbean Sea’s ecological value is perhaps only outweighed by its economic value to the countries and territories, many of which are small island developing states, whose major industries and the livelihood of their populations depend on the health of the marine environment.

A 2016 World Bank Report entitled Toward a Blue Economy: A promise for Sustainable Growth in the Caribbean estimated the total gross revenues of the Caribbean ocean economy at US$407 billion based on 2012 data. Considering only the Caribbean small island States and territories, these gross revenues were estimated at US$53 billion, equivalent to over 18 percent of the total GDP for all Caribbean Island States and Territories in 2012″, according to this report.

Threats to the Caribbean Sea are numerous, but one of the biggest is the accumulation of plastic waste material.  The above-mentioned World Bank Report noted that the Caribbean Sea “is estimated to have relatively high levels of plastic concentrations compared with many other large marine ecosystems”.

Major culprits are plastic shopping bags, as well as Styrofoam containers and plastic cutlery which are commonly used by street food vendors, food establishments and at festivals and parties. These materials take hundreds of years to decompose, while in the meanwhile clogging drains and being blights on the beaches and other landscape. Plastic waste is often transported through waterways into the ocean via normal rainfall or flooding, and poses serious danger to marine life and coral reefs, with knock-on effects for fisheries, food security and tourism.

Legislative approaches

Several countries in the Caribbean have taken steps to tackle the plastics problem. Haiti was among the first, banning the importation, marketing and sale of plastic products in 2012 by presidential decree, with mixed results.

In 2016 Guyana banned the importation, sale and manufacture of expanded polystyrene products (styrofoam) and its regulations have served as a model for several other countries. Bans on the importation, sale and/or manufacture of various plastics have also been done in Antigua & Barbuda, Aruba, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the US Virgin Islands.

In Antigua & Barbuda, for instance, the External Trade (Shopping Plastic Bags Prohibition Order) of 2017 prohibited after June 30, 2016 the importation, distribution, sale and use of shopping bags, except for those set out in the schedule. Another order, the External Trade (Import Prohibition) Order of 2017 takes a phased approach to banning certain polystyrene items, such as food service containers, utensils and the like. However, airline carriers, private charters and passenger cruise vessels are exempted from these rules. According to news reports, while larger retailers have been generally adhering to the ban, achieving compliance by some small retailers has been more challenging.

Some other Caribbean countries are also contemplating similar measures. In 2017 the Government of Jamaica appointed a multi-stakeholder committee to make recommendations regarding plastic and Styrofoam. A petition has been launched by activists in Trinidad & Tobago for banning plastics.

Market-based approaches 

Market-based approaches have also been used to a limited extent, such as imposing point of sale charges for plastic bags as a disincentive to consumers. In Barbados, for example, a well-known environmental charity lobbied to have retailers charge consumers extra for plastic bags, and to encourage consumers to opt for reusable bags, with some limited success.

Lessons Learnt So far 

  1. Strong enforcement and monitoring are needed to ensure compliance with the regulations. Under the Guyana Regulations, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency is empowered to conduct inspections and investigations to ensure compliance with the ban.
  2. Fines should be high enough to serve as a deterrent to non-compliance. In the US Virgin Islands, businesses found to be in violation are liable to a civil fine of not less than US$500 nor more than US$1,000 for each day of violation.
  3. Fines collected should be allocated towards some kind of environmental fund, environmental or waste management improvement agencies or programmes. Under the US Virgin Islands’ legislation, the monies collected are to be allocated as follows: 75 percent to the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority; and 25 percent to the General Fund of the Treasury of the Virgin Islands.
  4. The penalty for non-compliance is generally fines or a term of imprisonment. However, community service is another option which could be used.
  5. Resistance by consumers and some business owners has delayed the implementation of the bans in some cases. Retailers incur losses from unused stock, and some consumers see the measures as an inconvenience or just another  tax. A phased approach is, therefore, preferable to allow retailers, wholesalers and the like time to get rid of as much of the stock, and shift to more environmentally-friendly products, while also giving the relevant implementing agency and civil society time to educate the public about the importance of the measures to be introduced. A possible option is also the issue of incentives, such as tax waivers for the importation of environmentally-friendly substitutes.
  6. As such, legislative and/or market-based approaches have to be married with strong stakeholder engagement, public education and sensitisation campaigns to change ingrained cultural behaviours and attitudes towards the use and disposal of plastics, to educate the public about the environmental harm caused by marine waste, to encourage public buy-in and to show persons more environmentally-friendly alternatives. To this effect, the Guyana Regulations mandate the Environmental Protection Agency to “offer guidance on, promote and encourage the utilisation of recyclable, biodegradable and other environmentally friendly products as containers, or packaging for food products”. The St. Vincent & the Grenadines Regulations also provide for the same.
  7. On-going monitoring of the impact of these measures is crucial in order to determine their effectiveness and what adjustments are needed in ensure the desired results are being  obtained. This requires conducting an adequate baseline study before the measures are implemented and collecting data on a regular basis.
  8. Besides curbing plastic consumption, another problem is proper waste management. Latin America and the Caribbean accounted for 12% of waste generation by region per year, according to a World Bank publication. According to the publication, “the total amount of waste generated per year in this region is 160 million tonnes, with per capita values ranging from 0.1 to 14 kg/capita/ day, and an average of 1.1 kg/capita/day.” Within this grouping, the largest per capita solid waste generation rates are found in the islands of the Caribbean, the Report notes. As such, encouraging individuals, households and businesses to reduce their waste, recycle and to find more environmentally sustainable ways of managing waste is vital.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is an international trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.


Sport, Entrepreneurship and Development

Photo credit: Pixabay

Alicia Nicholls

Sport can be a powerful tool for development and economic diversification. This was the central thesis undergirding the Trinidad & Tobago Olympic Committee’s Future of Sport Conference 2017 which took place at Hotel Normandie in St. Ann’s, Trinidad last week. First let me once again commend TTOC President Mr. Brian Lewis and his team on a well-organised and informative event and for kindly inviting me to be a panellist. I also would like to give kudos to all fellow panellists, the moderator and to the audience for making the sessions as engaging as they were.


TTOC Conference Panel #3: (L-R) Moderator Racquel Moses, Shyamal Chandradathsingh,  Carla Paris, Alicia Nicholls

Sport is a multibillion dollar industry, and countries around the world are seeking ways to capitalise on this powerful tool for economic growth and development. For example, the small state of Qatar has identified sport as part of its national strategic plan. Among other upcoming international events, it will play host to the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Here in the Caribbean we too have earmarked sport as a potential non-traditional growth sector. In his rousing key note address at the TTOC Conference, Chairman of Trinidad & Tobago’s Economic Development Advisory Board and former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Trinidad & Tobago, Dr. Terrence Farrell indicated as much, naming sport as a potential diversification sector for their currently hydrocarbons based economy.

Sport can also be an enabler for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, which are targets set by the United Nations and to which all UN members agreed to pursue. Specifically, sport can assist not just in poverty alleviation (SDG 1), but also promoting good health and well-being (SDG 3), quality education (SDG 4), gender equality (SDG 5), and promoting peaceful and inclusive societies (SDG 16).  Indeed, this was recognised by the UN through the adoption of a resolution recognising sport as a means to promote education, health, development and peace.

However, for sport to play such a transformational role for growth and development, it is not enough to have raw sporting talent. It is no secret that Caribbean countries’ sporting prowess dwarfs their economic and physical size.  What is needed is a complete support structure. It requires not just the building of a sport entrepreneurial ethos, but a support system, including greater recognition of the role of intellectual property rights, financing and marketing, to name a few. It is this holistic approach which informed the four conference panels which aimed to take the would-be entrepreneur on a journey from conception of the idea to execution.

Again I would like to thank Mr. Lewis and his team for an excellent conference and I look forward to continuing the conversation on how we can harness sport for Caribbean development and growth. For videos and photos from the Conference, do have a look at the TTOC’s Facebook page.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Agriculture key for fostering Sustainable Development in Caribbean Countries

Alicia Nicholls

Development in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) can never be sustainable without building a sustainable agriculture sector. But don’t take my word for it. The need for improving the region’s food security and food sovereignty has been a recurrent theme in regional development discourse for decades. As a young girl growing up in Barbados, I remember the cookbook of traditional Barbadian recipes in our kitchen with the smiling face of its author, the late and legendary Barbadian  Mrs.  Carmeta Fraser, on the cover with the words to the effect of “Eat what we grow , and grow what we eat”. Years later, these words which former Senator Fraser echoed  tirelessly cross the length and breadth of Barbados are still in the realm of aspirations and not reality.

It is universally accepted that the best way to reduce Caribbean countries’ unsustainably high food import bills is by expanding agricultural production in an environmentally sustainable manner. However, as recognised by Sustainable Development Goal-2 which seeks to end hunger and achieve food security, plus improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agricultural practices, promoting a sustainable agriculture sector can help Caribbean countries address a number of cross-cutting developmental challenges besides food security.

The State of Caribbean Agriculture

Since the 1990s Caribbean economies have progressively shifted from mono-crop economies to services-based economies, mainly tourism and financial services. The main exceptions are the commodity-exporting countries of Guyana, Belize and Suriname which have more diversified economies and Trinidad & Tobago whose economy is based primarily on the oil/gas sector. A major reason for this shift was the loss of preferences in traditional export markets, particularly the European Union, and but also the recognition of the need to diversify their export-bases.

Agriculture is declining in its contribution to the GDP of most Caribbean countries, while the food import bills saddling our countries’ current accounts continue to rise. An FAO report entitled State of Food Insecurity in the CARICOM Caribbean revealed that CARICOM countries’ food import bill was in excess of USD $4.5 billion in 2011. Food imports are used not just for local consumption but also by the tourism sector. CaribbeanStats shows that Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica have relatively low import bills per occupant, while they are high in countries like Barbados, the Bahamas and Montserrat  Coupled with high food import bills is the growing scourge of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Caribbean countries’ incidence of, and mortality rates from, NCDs such as diabetes and hypertension, are among the highest in the world. This is due not just to increasingly sedentary and high-stress lifestyles but also poor eating habits, which prioritise processed foods over more organic foods.

Although the agriculture sector is no longer the main foreign exchange earner or employer, family-based small-scale farming remains an important source of employment and earnings in rural communities. Indeed, a 2012 FAO report shows that the majority of farming in the Caribbean is done on smallholdings. Income from farming helps to maintain households, buy needed supplies and educate children.

Challenges facing Caribbean Agriculture

Most Caribbean people would agree that promoting local agriculture is beneficial for Caribbean development, by saving much needed foreign exchange and supporting the livelihoods of local farmers. Moreover Caribbean farmers do not use the level of chemicals employed by farmers in more developed countries.  Even with high tariffs on imported agricultural products, the lack of economies of scale and high costs of production often make local produce less price competitive than imported produce. This is coupled with the fact that Caribbean governments lack the financial means to subsidise their farmers to the extent that large developed countries like the United States and European countries do.

Local farmers therefore could never compete with the subsidised produce from farmers abroad whose inputs are much cheaper. Farmers in Barbados, for example, have complained about the import of some products like onions which are produced in sufficient quantities locally. There is also the perception, in many cases justified, about the dubious quality of imported produce. It is long suspected that produce which have been rejected by developed countries because they do not meet their standards are relegated to third world countries.

In some rural parishes in Barbados, particularly those which have good soils and receive the highest levels of rainfall, prime agricultural land has been granted permission for change of use to residential use and subdivision.

Praedial larceny costs farmers thousands of dollars in lost earnings each year. In Barbados, for example, farmers have taken to the newspapers to complain about crop theft or the heinous slaughtering of livestock for the meat. Another major problem for many Barbadian farmers is crop theft and destruction by the native Green Monkey which has been forced to forage outside of its natural environs because of habitat loss. Farmers also typically experience difficulty in accessing financing through traditional methods to replace lost crops or to invest in technologies and other activities.

One of the impacts of climate change is the  crop loss from natural disasters and extreme weather and crop pests and diseases like Black Sigatoka and Moko which destroy bananas and plantains. For an example of how severe weather could wreck havoc on local agriculture, just remember that in 2004 Hurricane Ivan wiped out Grenada’s entire nutmeg crop. Another facet of climate change is the drought-like conditions which have  plagued Caribbean countries for the past almost two years. The drought has caused reduced crop yields, caused malnourished or lost livestock, and forced some farmers to seek alternative sources of income.

In addition to these issues, there is also the reality that farming is generally not glamorous or financially attractive for many younger Caribbean people. On the flip side though, I know of a few young people who have chosen to get into farming due to their inability to find employment.

If one looks at the demand side, Caribbean people, through exposure to cable television, have become wedded to North American products and foods, to the detriment of reducing demand for some locally produced fruits and vegetables. After all, why limit oneself to local fruits like ackees, golden apples, dunks and fat porks, when one can have imported grapes, strawberries and pears? Part of the recourse for improving demand for local produce is extolling the benefits of these local products through research, innovation and incorporating their usage once more into traditional cuisine, in much the way Carmeta Fraser tried to encourage.

Going forward

A framework for the development of a sustainable agriculture sector through the sustainable improvement of food production must be aligned with wider national and regional policy goals aimed at promoting food security and poverty reduction, improving public health and fostering economic development. If we are speaking of improving agriculture, then permission for change of use should never be given for prime arable lands where crop yields would be higher than poorer quality lands.

Crop loss through praedial larceny can be reduced by strengthening praedial larceny laws through harsher penalties. Jamaica established a Praedial Larceny Unit  May 2015 which was reported in February 2016 to have resulted in a 14 percent reduction in praedial larceny over  10 months. This could be a model other Caribbean countries might want to consider.

There needs to be greater public-sector engagement and support for farmers including training in  business strategies, marketing and packaging, greater use of technology, as well as more sustainable farming practices, such as more efficient land and water use. Would it not be great to be able to have a mobile app where a customer could find out what crops are available for sale at any given time and place an order via his or her phone? I know personally of at least one farm which has used social media to market products. More farmers should make use of the virtual market place.

Improving farmers’ access to finance would also facilitate investment in more environmentally sustainable farming technologies. Getting younger people involved in farming can be achieved by improving the teaching of agricultural science in schools, while some of the arable lands which are currently idle and over-run could be leased to farmers similar to the Land for the Landless Programme in Barbados.

Turning to the theft of crops by green monkeys in Barbados, the loss of habitat from the debushing of natural woodlands and gullies for residential use has forced many green monkeys to raid the crops in farming and residential communities, particularly in the more rural parishes. Although there have been calls by some for a monkey cull, I think a better option may be to consider designating certain gullies and woodlands, particularly on Crown Lands, as special monkey protection areas. These would have the benefit of not just protecting the green monkey’s habitat and being natural greenspace (in keeping with our goal of reducing our carbon footprint), but could be low impact eco-tourism attractions where the native green monkey could be observed in its natural habitat.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is an international trade and development consultant. You can read more of her commentaries here or follow her on Twitter @Licylaw.

Access to Justice as a Linchpin of the SDGs: The Sustainable Development Implications of Barbados’ Judicial Backlog

Alicia Nicholls

Access to justice has been recognised as a linchpin of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) which define the post-2015 global development agenda. Much ink has been spilt on Barbados’ crippling judicial backlog but very little has been said about the implications of this status quo for meeting sustainable development goals. Access to justice, recognised in SDG 16, is both an end and prerequisite for sustainable development as it is the means by which rights and development gains are enforced and protected. As a barrier to the access to justice, Barbados’ clogged court system has not only implications for the achievement of SDG 16 but can also undermine achievement of other sustainable development goals.

Barbados has a well-deserved and internationally renowned reputation as a constitutional democracy with strong institutions, respect for the rule of law and a high level of human development which far exceeds that of many fellow small island developing states. The endemic judicial malaise has been the subject of increasing concern and critique. The latest admonishment comes from the Caribbean Court of Justice, the country’s final court of appeal, in its judgment in Walsh v Ward et al, a dispute which originated in 1998. In what has become all too familiar, the CCJ at paragraphs 68 to 70 of the judgment criticised the length of time the case took and the hardships this delay has imposed on the litigants. The Court also noted that its frequent need to comment on Barbados’ excessive delays reveals that this is a “systemic problem”. On these points, there can be no disagreement.

The Nature of the Problem

In 2013 it was reported that there were over 3,000 cases awaiting trial and that there were 362 cases which were still undecided, some dating back to 1993. A plethora of reasons are usually posited for Barbados ’ backlog including late court starts and short court sessions, frequent adjournments, delays in judges’ delivery of written judgments, trial scheduling issues, misplaced files and/or incorrect filing of documents, lack of client/witness cooperation and the heavy workload of magistrates and judges. There is also no fixed time period for disposal of matters. In its 2008 judgment in Reid v Reid, the CCJ suggested “as a general rule no judgment should be outstanding for more than six months and unless a case is one of unusual difficulty or complexity, judgment should normally be delivered within three months at most”. There is no evidence that this suggestion has been adhered to.  These problems are further exacerbated by an increasingly litigious Barbadian society. In the above-mentioned report, it was estimated that between 1,700 and 2,000 new cases are filed each year.

The Sustainable Development Impact

Although there has been much criticism of Barbados’ judicial backlog, very little has been said about the sustainable development implications. Sustainable development, as defined in the Brundtland Report ‘Our Common Future’, is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Sustainable development depends on a tapestry of interconnected development issues, including poverty reduction, health and education and climate change. This diversity of issues is reflected in the 17 UN member agreed Sustainable Development Goals which succeeded the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Access to justice was not explicitly part of the MDGs but has been recognised by UN Member States in the post 2015 development agenda as both an end and an enabler of sustainable development. Specifically, Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to “Promote Peaceful and Inclusive Societies For Sustainable Development, Provide Access to Justice for All and Build Effective, Accountable and Inclusive Institutions At All Levels”.

Access to justice speaks to the populace’s ability to access and obtain redress through the institutions of justice in a manner that is fair, expeditious and equitable. It is fundamental to maintaining the rule of law and allows for the enforcement of rights, non- discrimination and accountability of decision makers. Judicial delays caused by a large judicial backlog limit the access to justice by ordinary citizens. Marginalised groups in society, such as the poor, elderly, disabled, children and victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse are disproportionately affected by judicial delays as they endure significant economic, social and mental hardship or in the case of the elderly, sometimes die before their matter has been satisfactorily settled. Each backlogged case therefore represents at least one victim for whom justice has been delayed and whose rights have not been protected.

Judicial delays also deny accused persons, who often have to wait on remand for years before their case is heard, their constitutional and human right to a fair trial in a reasonable time. According to Prison Studies, about 40% of Barbados’ prison population consists of persons awaiting trial. A large prison population puts a strain on the public purse, resources which could be better used for social development programmes.

Access to justice is also undermined where there is no public confidence in the system. If public utterances are anything to go by, the Barbadian public appears less than satisfied with the current state of the judicial system. Persons who do not have the confidence in the judicial system are more likely to take matters into their own hands.

The current backlog not only threatens the access to justice for citizens but can hurt economic activity and thereby undermine economic development (SDG 8). Expeditious case processing and resolution are important in a commercial context where time is money. Economic and reputational costs associated with lengthy delays in the settlement of matters are problematic not just for big firms, but are even more costly for small and medium sized businesses which may lack the revenues to stay in business while awaiting a decision. Any investor seeking to do business or invest in a country wants to be assured that it has prompt access to the local courts in order to enforce contractual rights and that it will not waste resources or possibly go out of business due to inordinately long waiting times. In the Doing Business Report 2016 Barbados currently ranks poorly (164 out of 189 countries) on the efficiency of the judicial system at resolving commercial contracts before the courts. These are indicators which investors consider and have implications for Barbados’ attractiveness as a place to invest.

What is being done?

There have been numerous attempts over the years to unclog the judicial backlog problem with very limited success. Among the initiatives have been the new Civil Procedure Rules, the requirement of case management conferences, the creation of special purpose courts, the on-going removal from the computer system of “dead” cases, the addition of three more judges and the Chief Justice’s practice direction on backlog reduction. There are also more recent on-going regional initiatives like IMPACT Justice and the JURIST project which seek to address the justice system as a whole, including facilitating much needed digital access to all the Laws of Barbados and court decisions.

But are the steps far enough? Alternative dispute resolution has been proposed as a possible solution, a suggestion supported by this Author in an article in 2012. The pre-action protocols provide that parties  to a dispute must engage in “genuine and reasonable negotiations with a view to settling the claim economically and without Court proceedings”. The Court Annexed Mediation Pilot project has been unrolled in the High Court and some of the magistrates courts. However, Barbados still has no Mediation Act or a mediation board. The solutions so far have not been enough to deal with the scale of the problem. Therein lies a critical issue; what is the scale of the problem?

Official judicial data is woefully lacking on critical indicators such as time to resolution of cases before each court, the size, age and composition of the backlog in each court, the number of outstanding judgments, the average time each judge takes to render a judgment, and average stay on remand. In an effort to allow for comparative measurement of progress for countries, the UN will be developing global indicators during the next year to facilitate data gathering for each goal and target. Countries are expected to formulate their own indicators based on their own unique circumstances. Data on these indicators would provide local authorities with a comprehensive understanding of the scale, nature and causes of the backlog problem which would assist in the formulation of performance goals and the type of interventions needed. Without this any changes would simply be cosmetic.

Additionally, we the Barbadian public have heard of many judicial reform initiatives but very little on what they have achieved thus far. Progress reports on the impact of these reform initiatives should be published to help restore public confidence in the system.

An efficient and effective judicial system is essential for upholding the rule of law, safeguarding rights and ensuring the smooth functioning of democratic processes, all of which are needed for sustainable development. The long shadow of Barbados’ case backlog creates pressures on the courts, delays the process of justice and redress, particularly to the disadvantaged, and erodes public confidence in the system. Delays in the settlement of commercial cases can hamper business activity, potentially undermining economic development. Targeted interventions based on a data-supported understanding of the nature and causes of the problem are needed, while public reporting on gains made should inspire public confidence that change is on its way.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. The Author wishes to thank everyone who provided insight for this article but any errors or omissions are solely those of the Author’s.