Investigating Opportunities In St Helena
Investigating Opportunities In St Helena

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Investigating Opportunities In St Helena


A high-level delegation of business and political leaders from the island of St Helena has been investigating trade opportunities in Johannesburg. The delegation included senior executives from the banking and finance sectors, tourism, agriculture, commercial, media and fishery interests.

The delegation’s busy programme culminated in an event with Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Thursday 22nd February 2018, where local businesses heard more about St Helena and its future growth plans.

Chairman of Enterprise St Helena and elected member of the island’s governing council, Hon Lawson Henry said, “The business mission is to help St Helenian businesses understand the great opportunities for links with Johannesburg. With a new scheduled air service operating weekly between the island and the city, Johannesburg becomes the gateway to our fascinating island as suppliers and investors are able to move easily between centres.”

St Helena is located 3135 km northwest from Cape Town, in the middle of the southern Atlantic Ocean. Historically, most visitors came to the island by sea from Cape Town. The sea crossing used to take five nights on board the last Royal Mail Ship, the St Helena. It now takes just five hours to fly from St Helena to Johannesburg.

Henry said, “St Helena is a United Kingdom Overseas Territory, changing laws follow due process and corruption does not exist on our island. The legislative framework is that there are elections every four years to a legislative council, which works closely with the governor, who is the representative of Her Majesty’s government and together to form the St Helena government.”

The St Helena government has responsibility for all the functions of a nation, apart from defence and foreign policy. The Legislative Council deals with justice and policing, health care, education, the economy and taxation, social care, environment and infrastructure.

“It is a unique challenge to provide the full range of functions for the population of the island of just under 5000 people. We do this with support from the United Kingdom government, but the island is keen to grow its economy to reduce this reliance. The island’s people are proud of their British connections, there is no desire for political independence, but they do want to have a thriving economy that will support future generations,” says Henry.

St Helena is politically stable, crime is virtually zero, the environment is rich, the climate is stable, the language spoken is English and St Helena uses the British Pound alongside the St Helenian Pound which is at a £1 to £1 parity.

The island started life as a volcano and remained undiscovered until 1502 when a Portuguese ship happened upon the island. The Portuguese left a presence on St Helena but it wasn’t until the early 17th century that the Dutch started to use the island as a staging post for voyages in the South Atlantic. The British took the island from the Dutch in 1659 and it remained an outpost of the British East India Company until 1834 when governance transferred across to the British Crown.

During its heyday, three ships a day would typically call at the island to replenish water and food supplies, much of it produced on the island. The island was fortified during this period and many of the fortifications remain to provide great interest for military historians.

The secure nature of the island and its remoteness made it an ideal location for the confinement of its most famous resident, Napoleon Bonaparte, who arrived in 1815 and stayed until his death in 1821. The legacy of his stay remains as a major part of the island’s attractions.

St Helena was also used during the Anglo Boer War for 6000 prisoners of war at the start of the last century. Sadly, some of them didn’t make it home and the cemetery at Knollcombes is especially poignant.

The island’s role as a staging post diminished after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1866.

Michielle Yon, Director of Resources for Enterprise St Helena â€" the island’s economic development agency
said, “I am very passionate about the island. Enterprise St Helena (or ESH as it is locally known) was set up by the Government of St Helena in 2012 to promote economic development on the island. Basically, to help St Helena to become financially independent.”

Peter Bright, Director of Commercial Development and Enterprise, Enterprise St Helena said, “The advent of air services has seen an increase in the number of business people keen to visit and explore what is on offer. Areas of interest have covered coffee production; viticulture; agriculture; satellite ground stations; renewable energy; marine tourism; and visitor accommodation provision.”

To encourage investment, Enterprise St Helena offers a comprehensive package of support helping investors. This can include identifying appropriate properties for the venture; advising on meeting employment and workforce needs; introducing investors to relevant stakeholders including the Bank of St Helena; Connect the utility provider; and the Chamber of Commerce.

Enterprise St Helena is currently developing an investment strategy and would be keen to explore this some more. Enterprise St Helena also works with the St Helena Government to ensure that projects’ progress
includes navigating through St Helena government processes such as planning, land acquisition and tax.

Through its investor strategy, the island will encourage investment that balances the unique character of the island with reasonable opportunities for profit. As a fledgling economy, the government recognises the need for growth that is economically, environmentally and socially sustainable.

To support the need for economic growth the island is also developing a Sustainable Economic Development Plan. This plan has identified a number of business areas where the island can offer a natural advantage:

These include:

The new air service creates an opportunity to provide accommodation and activities both on land and at sea. The island is very unique â€" from hosting Napoleon in his final days â€" to being visited by early astronomers Halley and Maskelyn as they mapped the southern stars.

The island’s built heritage offer scope from bringing historic buildings back into use as characterful accommodation for visitors. Ladder Hill Fort particularly has potential for a 45 key upscale hotel with outstanding views across James Bay and the northern coast. The island played a key role in the abolition of slavery.

Its natural environment is diverse for a small island. There are many walking trails, which take you from lush rolling hills to arid cacti growing cliff sides. And from almost wherever you go, you will see the sea.

Diving and marine life are outstanding with clear warm waters and fascinating fish and wrecks to explore. Swimming with whale sharks is a huge draw for tourists.

The pace of the island would work very well for niche offers such as yoga, wellness and meditation retreats, and there is even a potential for a health tourism offering.

St Helena has a 200-mile maritime protection area around its coasts. Within the area St Helena has committed to a ‘one by one’ tuna fishery to maximise the quality and value of the catch. This method uses one hook and one line, to catch tuna one at a time including techniques such as pole-and-line, handline and troll.

St Helena imports over 200,000 tonnes of potatoes and onions annually and over 10 000 dozen eggs. There is a desire to grow more crops on the island, particularly to expand growth of products which are difficult to import, like soft fruit and honey.

Local production is increasingly using modern technology to ensure consistency of production, but traditional methods still prevail. Given the subtropical nature of the island’s climate, output has the potential
to be greater and opportunities to innovate both practices and technologies are widespread.

Opportunities for the production of ornamentals come with the advent of air transport. But there are also opportunities to service local markets too. The island’s coffee beans currently sell into high end markets like Harrods. While there is a lead time from initial planting to an economic harvest, the niche nature of the crop will provide great potential returns. There is also the opportunity to develop the roasting of the green
bean in St Helena, as an added value enterprise.

The New Zealand flax plant was introduced as a crop to be used for making cloth used in mailbags by the United Kingdom post office. The move to plastic sacks in the 1970s decimated the industry and has resulted
in significant areas of hillside being taken over by flax plants that could potentially be the raw material for a high-end craft based product.

New crops such as viticulture have potential to add to the diversity of produce and potentially create an export industry. A distillery on the island makes both gin and local spirits; one made from local coffee and another based on the tungi (prickly pear, cactus) fruit. Like the plant, the drink deserves to be treated with respect!

The island’s remoteness and rigorous enforcement of biosecurity measures has protected St Helena bees from the diseases that have ravaged many of the bee populations across the world. Not only is honey a scarce and valuable commodity, the bees themselves offer an opportunity to replenish stocks elsewhere.

From 2020, St Helena will be connected to the internet by submarine fibre optic cable. The current arrangements are via satellite with attendant costs in terms of capacity and speed. If you google ‘St Helena Earth Station Project’ you can see the offering for satellite ground station providers.

Whilst the air services have brought St Helena in to the 20th century, fibre optics will bring the island into the 21st century. Therefore, there are vast opportunities to support the local economy and for new businesses
to be able to enjoy the fantastic lifestyle that the island offers.

The full range of digital business opportunities include using the island as a film set, where the variety of landscapes and clear skies provide massive potential.

Over 30% of the UK’s endemic species of flora and fauna are found on St Helena. The island has a fantastic geological and cultural heritage. As an island it is a closed system making it ideal for research and it is of a scale where small changes can have big impacts. Research needs infrastructure, from accommodation for students to laboratory facilities and connectivity.

The island recently hosted its first international conference covering topics as diverse as whale sharks, invertebrates, renewable energy and marine plastic pollution. It attracted speakers from Canada, USA, the Falklands, the UK, the Netherlands and South Africa. The international media coverage gained has raised the profile of opportunities on St Helena. 

For more information
Peter Bright, Director Commercial
Development and Enterprise, Enterprise St Helena

Investigating Opportunities In St Helena

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