Trends in Sustainable Enterprise in Suriname*
Consultant Development Projects in Suriname and in The Netherlands
Department of Values, faculty Technology Policy and Management
This contribution offers an overview of sustainability issues and initiatives in Surinam. It is not meant to be exhaustive and it doesn’t aim at providing an overview of the many types of business that are active in Surinam as such. But it shows the historical timeline of Surinam, that is, from where Surinam comes and where it might have to go in order to respond to future challenges. Those entrepreneurial initiatives are singled out that are promising for the economy of Surinam in terms of sustainability.
Suriname depends for its economy on the mining sector: bauxite, gold and oil. The big international corporations in this sector are not following a sustainable policy. The Suriname government doesn’t have a sustainable enterprise policy either. But there is a glimmer of hope, because some grassroot initiatives are being taken, and they are setting a trend in the direction of sustainable entrepreneurship, primarily in agriculture. For that to prosper the government must make specific laws and policies concerning sustainable enterprise.
In researching sustainable enterprises, we will focus here on enterprises in Suriname -profit and not for profit, small or large- ‘that integrate sustainability and responsibility into their strategy, operations and products, to have a transformational and positive impact on the biggest social and environmental challenges we face’ (Visser, 2016). These enterprises according to Visser (2016) must focus on value creation, good governance, societal contribution and ecological integrity. They must also consider themselves responsible for the consequences of their actions and they must take precautions for them. That means that they must not act as business as usual, but must initiate innovative and creative ideas and approaches to achieve their goals.
Often sustainability concerns only come afterwards – after everything else in the business has been put in place. In this regard Surinam is no exception. The talk is there and the well-meant striving as well, but it is difficult to mention exemplary approaches that really walk the talk. Therefore, the authors will describe the state-of-the-art of social, economic and environmental sustainability in Surinam and show how several businesses (enterprises) try to make further strides. Through a survey in 2014 in which businesspeople and government organizations took part and through desk research till 2020, the authors have tried to find aspects of sustainable enterprises that are innovative, and which can contribute to the sustainable development of Suriname.
Some facts about Suriname
Suriname is located on the mainland of South-America and borders the Atlantic Ocean to the north, with Brazil to the south, British Guyana to the west and to the east French Guyana, a district of France. As a former Dutch colony, the official language in Suriname is Dutch. Although Suriname is part of South-America, it is not really part of its culture, since the continent as a whole is
culturally more oriented towards Spain and Portugal. With little more than half a million inhabitants Suriname is thinly populated -more than four times the size of The Netherlands which has about 17 million inhabitants- and almost all of its inhabitants live in the coastal area around the capital Paramaribo.
Notwithstanding the huge natural resources and a relatively small population of about more than half a million, the GDP per capita for Suriname according to the IMF for 2020 will be 6880 USD (https://www.imf.org/external/datamapper/profile/SUR/WEO). The revenues from natural resources of more than 100 years haven’t been invested in production for economic development, but rather in consumption and in government spending. According to UNESCO (http://uis.unesco.org/en/country/sr) less than 50.000, about 8 percent of the population, has a tertiary education (college, university level). Based on our observation most vocational schools (basic, secondary, higher) in Suriname do not focus on modern technology (including information technology) for production to achieve economic growth, but rather on old technology for internal consumption. The majority of the secondary schools (MULO) focus on general education and not on modern vocational education to create economic value
Sustainability Challenges: economic, environmental and social
Mining (bauxite, gold, oil) makes up 95 percent of the GDP (Central Bank of Suriname 2013; Suriname Investment Guide 2013) and the remaining 5 percent comes mainly from agriculture (rice, banana, shrimp, vegetables). Although there is plenty of fertile land available, only a small number of businesses are involved in agriculture and food production. Education in modern agriculture to support the sector in a meaningful way is almost lacking, however there is a schooling on primary, secondary, and tertiary level in agriculture. Since mining is almost the sole foundation of the economy, economic policies, programs and projects are too much dependent on the world market prices of natural resources. The market fluctuations make it difficult for Suriname to set long term policies. Suriname must think hard about how to give the economy a more solid foundation.
One of the biggest challenges is to stop the destruction of the environment caused by mining (deforestation, mercury pollution, degradation). Logging is pervasive and not sustainable, rather destructive for the environment. Individuals and groups of Suriname descent and Brazilians are taking part in the mining of gold using outdated methods with the metal mercury which is destructive for the ecology, the biology and humans. The challenge for the government is how to turn them into small modern mining enterprises and entrepreneurs that adhere to the rules of sustainable entrepreneurship.
Although Suriname is part of the Amazon-forest, endangered species are not very much taken care of, due to the short term focus on profit by the mining companies, the absence of guidelines by the government, and due to the vast number of miners without training in modern mining. For instance, the unique nature conservation resort Brownsberg has already severely been damaged and indigenous people having fish on their daily menu are now dished with fish with dangerous levels of mercury. And tourism which is one of the main resources for income of the local population is being severely damaged whereas in the long run tourism would have more potential than mining and it would be more sustainable.
International companies such as ALCOA and Billiton (BHP Billiton) have mined minerals for about one hundred years in Suriname, but the detrimental effects of their mining activities have to be fully restored yet. In Moengo as well as in Paranam and Onverdacht, three former important bauxite sites, there are waste remains of the bauxite exploitations still to be taken care of, but there are no activities to restore the environmental damage that has been caused or help the local society to develop itself further without mining.
Providing renewable energy
Another challenge is providing renewable energy to meet the challenges of climate change. The Amazon-forest is full of all kinds of medicinal plants and other biological wealth, but Suriname hasn’t built the human capital to exploit it in a sustainable way.
The social implications of mining are also heavily felt. In the interior of Suriname, because of the mining of gold, complete indigenous and local communities are being destructed and young women from Suriname and from Latin American countries are being used as prostitutes under conditions that do not set good standards for social and moral development. Social conditions, like poverty and lack of education, are the causes for this situation: most of the women and girls are uneducated and have no other means to earn a living.
Governmental policies on sustainability
Notwithstanding the economic, social and environmental challenges, no governmental coherent policies are available on sustainable entrepreneurship for sustainable development (Ministery of Foreign Affairs and National Institute for Environment and Development in Suriname, 2013). Even though Suriname is not an island, in 1981 it joined the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), a group of more than 50 islands around the world that face the same sustainability problems- such as a small but growing population, limited resources, a fragile environment, and dependence on international trade. It was not until 2002, twenty years later, before Suriname started to take active part in SIDS (UN-OHRLLS 2011; Ministery of Foreign Affairs and National Institute for Environment and Development in Suriname, 2013). At that time ALCOA, the American international, was already mining bauxite from 1916 in Suriname. Later another international mining company, Billiton (now BHP Billiton), joined the mining industry in Suriname. Because of these companies there are some regulations on mining, but they are more geared towards income generation for the government than towards the implementation of sustainable entrepreneurship. The government also doesn’t have comprehensive laws on sustainability for business and organizations. International goldmining companies such as SURGOLD, a daughter of the international New Mont Mining Corporation, and IAMGOLD, are operating in Suriname on more or less the same base as the bauxite companies ALCOA and BHP Billiton back then. Recently huge oil reserves were found offshore. This makes it plausible that now and in the future mining will keep dominating the Suriname economy as it has done in the past more than a hundred years now. But because of this, Suriname should have comprehensive laws and policies in place or make them. And another aspect that needs attention is that although the government has proclaimed that Suriname should become the main food production country for the CARICOM (Ontwikkelingsplan 2012), there are no policies in place and no instruments developed to achieve this in itself very sustainable goal. For energy it is almost the same.
The different challenges should have been taken together and formulated as a point of departure for a policy on sustainability and sustainable entrepreneurship. Nonetheless there are some cases we can draw on here.
Cases and Trends
Here are some cases and trends concerning initiatives for sustainable enterprises in Suriname.
The main energy source for electricity in Suriname since 1965 when the Afobaka construction project had been completed is hydropower. Where this grid is not available, by and large fossil fuels 3
are used for electricity generation. Between 2005 and 2011 income per capita more than doubled as well as the energy demand. At the same time Suriname is heavily dependent on fossil fuels and even more energy consumption is foreseen (Ontwikkelingsplan 2012). Several projects on PV (solar) and hydropower have been implemented on the village level in the interior of the country, often initiated by external NGOs such as a PV system in Kwamalasumutu and a micro power plant in Palumeu (Alvares 2007). There were also ideas about a hydropower plant in Palumeu (TapaJai project) and the Kabalebo project in the western part of Suriname. Lack of capital, lack of maintenance and lack of capacity to deal with the new technology and politics caused these projects to fail or to stop sooner or later. The Surinam government, however, strives for more reliance on renewable energy sources. There is potential for wind energy at the coast, in the past energy from palm oil has been tried and this project is considered to be reactivated. Also, a rice husk burner has been installed already in 1975 but this system is not operational anymore. The energy company of Suriname (EBS) is considering getting it going once more. Many plans are in the making, for instance to integrate the grid nationally, to install more hydropower plants, to produce ethanol from sugarcane (feasibility study conducted), to start a micro-crop farm for energy production (initial license agreement signed). Most of the plans suffer from the syrupy political and bureaucratic habits of Suriname. Generally speaking, power distance in Suriname is high and collaboration between different actors is limited and difficult. The different actors and institutions tend to look upon each other as competitors and the fear is that by sharing knowledge, they may give up privileges they could obtain by keeping it for themselves. In addition, the high degree of uncertainty avoidance makes civil servants and institutions shy away from risky projects and radical transitions. This and other vested interests make energy transitions towards sustainability, though strived for and necessary, difficult to realize.
Renewable energy production will be a main opportunity of the future for sustainability and so is bio-energy. Energy production doesn’t need to be the domain of the government only. Sustainable enterprises could join this field also. But with the discovery of huge oil fields in Suriname the chances are slim if there is no special effort to focus on the development of renewable energy, including bio-energy. Nevertheless, here is where the future of energy lies. Staatsolie, the national oil company, was planning to start a sugar cane factory to produce ethanol bio-fuel (Staatsolie 2014) but by political intervention the permission was given to a Chinese company to carry out the plan (http://dagonline.nl/suriname/suriname-start-suikerrietproductie-in-wakai/) in the western district of Suriname.
Transition from rice towards other profitable vegetables and fruits
Rice production in Suriname is considered to be very important for the country, since it is the staple food, it creates employment through smallholder farming, stimulates entrepreneurship and contributes to the GDP. There are two sorts of rice farming in Suriname: dry land farming in the interior by smallholder farmers and mechanized swamp farming in fields or polders with a canal system for irrigation in the coastal area. The national rice research and breeding institute, ADRON, gasoline for rice production, the maintenance of the canal system that provides water for irrigation (Multipurpose Corantijn Canal) – it is all subsidized and cannot do without. The bigger farmers benefit more from the system of subsidies than the smallholders. But in the end rice farming is not very profitable for Suriname. The economic returns from vegetables and fruits are ten times higher than that from rice (Rodriguez et al 2012).
Thus, it might be better to leave rice production and turn towards the farming of more profitable vegetables and fruits such as acai (also known as podosiri). Acai is a very nutritional berry from a palm tree. In the form of juice, it has always been part of the diet of people in the interior. In Brazil and on the world market acai is highly in demand. It can be integrated in all kinds of food and beverages and eaten in the traditional way. The transition from rice to acai is already taking place
since several businesses have picked up on the idea. The palm grows mainly in swampy areas. Harvesting is done by climbing the trees which can be up to more than 6 meters tall. Smaller varieties are imported from Brazil so that harvesting becomes easier and also in order to keep the quality at a constant level, since different varieties give different results. This certainly is a development towards sustainability.
Rice contributes less than 5% to the GDP and products like acai and medicinal plants can contribute ten times to that of rice, so about 50% if produced in the same quantity. The example of acai shows that there are more promising possibilities than rice and mining and there is an ongoing search for other products as well, like pepper (seasoning), koesoewe (coloring of food) and stevia (sugar replacement). Rice can be seen as a strategic product though, which the government wants to keep financing because of its broad and daily consumption, but then it must be treated as such and not seen as a product for income generation.
A Suriname-Dutch foundation d’ONS (https://www.stdons.nl), the acronym for Foundation for Sustainable Development Suriname, promotes sustainable development practices in agri-business in Suriname where businesses can compete for an award for the most sustainable enterprise. The award is granted annually since 2012. Although it is different from setting up sustainable businesses the award stimulates agri-farms to apply sustainable development approaches and to compete with and learn from other businesses.
There are some local organizations such as ABI (Associatie van Binnenlandse Industriëlen, translated Association of Interior Producers) with financial help of some big mining companies looking at new production possibilities of natural products such as acai and medicinal plants. But these organizations are still in their starting phase. The biological natural resources of Suriname are huge, parts of the Suriname forest are part of the Amazon rain forest, with unknown medicinal plants as cure of some of our known and unknown diseases. Research has to be done and when harvesting medicinal plants new techniques as magnetic harvesting can be used instead of removing the medicinal leaves and roots. Harvesting and maintaining the natural production of the forest in a proper and scientific way will lead to sustainability.
SOIL is the Dutch acronym for Suriname Development of Innovative Agriculture. In Moengo, where bauxite has been mined for almost a century, 1916-2015, due to the depletion of the bauxite- resources, the Suralco, a daughter of the American company ALCOA, has terminated all its mining activities. This contributes to the already existing high level of unemployment. Nor ALCOA nor the Suriname government developed any program as an alternative for development of the region. SOIL together with TU Delft, the University of Antwerp and the university of Suriname (AdeK) developed a plan (SOIL Masonkondre 2017) to turn Moengo, one of the mining locations, into a science park where different universities and businesses could take part and turn it into an innovation hub geared towards sustainable entrepreneurship for income generation. Due to government intervention that plan hasn’t been implemented.
For more than three years SOIL Masonkondre (http://www.soilmasonkondre.org), in close cooperation with the local people from the region and supported by the Technological University of Delft is working on the so-called SURE approach: Sustainable Rural Entrepreneurship. Since so much land is lying idle and since the market demand for agricultural production is increasing, the
authors have chosen to focus on this initiative, because it integrates environmental and social sustainability from the start. The idea is to help smallholder farmers acquire modern knowledge about agriculture, innovative food production and entrepreneurship and to find markets for their produce. Important is the emphasis on capacity building, introducing new knowledge, skills and an entrepreneurial attitude. The program has been running since 2011. Interns from the TU Delft (http://tudelft.nl) play an important role in this program and they as well learn from it.
As an experiment two farmers, who already owned agri-farms with potential, received a loan to improve their agricultural practice. One of the farmers won a prize as most innovative small agri- business in Suriname. Both farmers were also supported in setting up an administrative information system. In cooperation with a primary school, a greenhouse was built at their site to showcase how agriculture can be practiced in a more innovative way, leaving the traditional ‘slash and burn’ practice behind, which is not effective, produces a lot of carbon and destroys valuable eco-systems. Building up capacity is crucial in this process and also the most sustainable thing to do. It is the quality of people, human capital, that makes all the difference. For another school, a basic vocational school, an agriculture curriculum was developed together with the ministry of education, and now two teachers are teaching modern agriculture there.
In both the cases of the two farmers and the schools, it was difficult to create an open attitude to advertise the new approach. So, as an example of cooperation for business and learning, SOIL helped to set up a craft shop, which was easier to do than an agri-farm. Most crafters didn’t have a place to show and sell their work. A small shop of one of the crafters was renovated with the support of students from the TU Delft with a background in design and architecture. A system was set up in which every crafter has a production code, and all sold products are registered. This was new and it created transparency and trust. That craft-business is still in operation, for more than five years already, and more than 30 crafters are working together in it. It sets the standard for further cooperative business initiatives.
A center was built by SOIL with a training facility to demonstrate how to build and use a greenhouse and how to use modern technology in small agri-farm businesses. SOIL was already approached by different farmers for support and one of the farmers was ready to open his business for local interns and the youth to learn there. Yet another farmer who wanted to learn about setting up an agri-farm was supported by interns of the HAS at the moment of writing (http://www.hashogeschool.nl). And also, students of another agriculture school, Aeres, were sent to help with modern agro-techniques and with research how to set up agricultural SME’s. Workshops were being organized to transfer the knowledge about modern agricultural techniques and create human capital on modern agriculture entrepreneurship. Building capacities and transferring them are crucial aspects of helping to build sustainable local initiatives.
SOIL has developed the concept called Renewable energy System where all renewable energies have been brought into one holistic system, which can be expanded and constantly improved. Due to the lack of finance it hasn’t been developed further, improved and implemented.
The concept of SURE (Sustainable Rural Entrepreneurship), implemented by SOIL was constantly evaluated and further developed. All aspects of sustainable entrepreneurship such as value creation, good governance, social contribution, creativity, scalability, responsiveness, glocality and circularity are integrated in the SURE approach. In the concept of SURE capacity building is considered to be of primary importance. Capacity is built in small steps on three levels: small-scale new technology is introduced (greenhouses, biogas, water provisions etc.), and these correspond to small steps in further investment and reinvestment in such facilities, and finally it is supported by step-by-step training in capacities, such as capacity for entrepreneurship, marketing the produce, capacity to monitor the internal production processes etc. The impact of SURE is due to the fact that
the farmers grow in the same rhythm as their companies grow. We have experimented with the primary sector (growing vegetables and medicinal plants), secondary sector (processing), tertiary (service, administration, helping building greenhouses), quaternary (capacity, working with the government to create facilities).
For a boarding school in Paramaribo, Christoforus Internaat (Christoforus Boarding School), together with the TU Delft a plan was designed to develop a centre for horticulture. The boarding school houses about 85 children from the level of primary to secondary school, attending general and vocational education. The students from this boarding school are almost entirely from the interior of Suriname and will return to their villages after they have finished their education. If they acquire enough techniques of modern agriculture, they can implement it in the interior of Suriname and help spread the knowledge of modern agriculture. Not only modern agriculture, but also agri- business is taught from the perspective of creating a green economy: a chain of sustainable agri- businesses from field to mouth (internal consumption and export). Apart from TU Delft, the university of Suriname, the AdeK, is involved in this project together with other local stakeholders. The horticentre can also be used for schools in Paramaribo to promote urban farming, because it is in the city. The first greenhouse of this boarding school is working perfectly. It is provided with an irrigation system, LED-light, cultivation trays and also with a hydroponic system. Because it is in the centre of Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname, different schools can make use of it. Paramaribo, including its surrounding, has the largest concentration of the population of the country and also of the youth and is suitable as a basis for spreading the idea.
Associations active in sustainable entrepreneurship in Surinam
The Suriname Industry and Trade Association (http://www.vsbstia.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=59&Itemid=11&lang=n l) as national organization for business is the organization to focus on sustainable entrepreneurship. It didn’t develop a real policy yet. The Suriname Conservation Foundation (http://www.scf.sr.org) has a green policy, but not a business oriented one. Tropenbos International Suriname (http://www.tropenbos.org/country_programmes/suriname) focuses on spreading knowledge about the forest and in supporting organizations in dealing with the sustainability of the forest. Although Tropenbos International and Suriname Conservation Foundation are no business associations themselves, they promote methods which can also support sustainable enterprises.
The Suriname Chamber of Commerce in Paramaribo organizes courses and workshops and is suitable to spread the idea of sustainable entrepreneurship.
Since our research in 2014-2015 and its publication in 2016 (Visser, 2016), the state-owned company Grassalco, created a modern lab, InvitroPlants, with greenhouses and with facilities for the production of plants. InVitroPlants is partnering with international organizations such as Vitropic of France. In 2019 the Suriname government legalized the production of Marijuana and Grassalco will also be involved in the production plants and seeds for commercial growers. They also have taken up the production of medicinal plants. Apart from the cooperation with international organizations there is no known cooperation with Suriname organizations or agricultural businesses to help build sustainable enterprises for the green economy.
Grassalco should make a plan to help create sustainable enterprises for sustainable development and the government should create an enabling environment to steer this development in a positive direction. In itself the legalization can be a good thing helping to stimulate the economy and decriminalize it, but health issues and ecological conditions must also be considered. The medicinal
effects are one of the motivations for legalization.
Suriname is part of the Amazon rain forest and what goes for ABI in its research, is also applicable to InVitroPlants: it is important to explore the biological riches and they can team up together.
We haven’t found established businesses which can be labeled as ‘sustainable enterprises’, those that practice sustainability from strategy to execution. Business organizations, labor organizations and environmental organizations in Suriname, have a long way to go to make sustainability part of their mindset and existence. The first step is to formulate a strategy and create capacity to execute that strategy as part of their output and as normal business activity.
For new businesses it should be mandatory to have a strategy on sustainability and its execution. And government should take the initiative to create a sustainability platform where all ideas about sustainability are brought together, and periodically a report about the state of the art of sustainability could be produced.
The list of enterprises or organizations mentioned involved in sustainable entrepreneurship is not exhaustive and there will be surely more initiatives, but these are the ones we could track. Further efforts will be put in place to keep tracing new activities and trends.
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* This article was published in The World Guide to Sustainable Enterprise.
Volume 4:The Americas by Wayne Visser (Ed., 2016). The present version of 2020 is an update in which new information is added. The overall message is the same as in the published version of 2016.
For the next update we would like to receive valuable information about existing or new initiatives about sustainable enterprises in Suriname which haven’t been covered in this article. You can send your information to the authors via the above emails.