From the mountaintop you can see the sea on all sides. You can watch the ebb and flow of people, goods and resources to and from the island. The oil tanker arrives with diesel for the power station and petrol for the cars and leaves with a huge proportion of the island’s economy whilst the community can barely afford the electricity generated. The fishermen arrive with their line-caught tuna but get paid a pittance when it leaves to low value markets. The cloud forest around me covers 2% of its original area and no longer feeds the island with water which is increasingly a scarce commodity and a desalination plant will require still more energy and put the price of water beyond the reach of the community. The ship unloads subsidised processed food as the farmers look on and diabetes goes through the roof.

You can understand how the local economy and local community is intricately linked to the natural resources of the island. It becomes easy to envision how replacing some of the imports can keep money in the local economy and provide opportunities for the community. Replacing fuel imports with local renewables, producing high quality food and protecting and managing the valuable water resources are just a few of the areas in which it is easy to make a huge positive impact on the lives of the community.

St Helena is one of the world’s remotest island. Energy poverty is a major challenge and prices are high due to the reliance on diesel imports. Agriculture has been in decline and supplies are limited to the imports every three weeks from South Africa. The water supply is precarious and the cloud forest (home to hundreds of endangered species) that used to capture moisture and store it in rich soils has been almost lost and desertification is advanced. The fisheries are not viable and local sustainable tuna catches are sold into the low value international cannery market.

But things are changing. A major solar farm has taken renewable energy production to 30% and rising. Agricultural partnerships are diversifying production and increasing availability of local fresh fruit and vegetables. A programme has been designed to incrementally reinstate the ecology of the island in order to increase water security. The entire fishery has now been declared a marine reserve with only sustainable fishing methods creating the basis for sustainability labelling and high value exports for the local fishermen. A certification programme has been put in place with the support of the marine tourism operators as a major step in the development of an eco-tourism-based economic development.

urbanisland – economies that build social and natural capital