The South Abaco Farmer’s Association (SAFA) members held their monthly meeting on Oct. 21 at the Dundas Town Burial Society to discuss a number of key issues. First on the agenda was the resignation of Leslie Thompson, the former SAFA president, on Sept. 24.
Thompson is now the inspector and consultant for the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC).
“Thanks for the time under my leadership,” he said. “We will move forward in a good, fruitful way.”
While George Martin is filling in as president on an interim basis, Dwayne Johnson is the interim vice president of SAFA. Martin said they will continue pushing the agenda of SAFA, so that they can continue toward food security on Abaco and work together to take the association to the next level.
Listed among their business concerns was the establishment of good communication with members and a link to BAIC. Next, Martin sought to re-activate the vision for SAFA’s Business Center. The old sugar cane farm location has proved challenging for some of the farmers, so Martin also requested the reallocation of farm land for those members because of elephant or bamboo grass which is difficult to get rid of.
John Heddon, an Abaco farmer, told Martin that 95 plots of land are in the area, and that there are some farmers who do not wish to be relocated. He suggested that the government sort out proper land tenure because presently farmers only receive a receipt for their lease payment.
“Nobody has received a proper lease; they give you a letter of intent,” Heddon explained. “You’re essentially paying into thin air.”
Nick Miaoulis, owner of Abaco Neem, has been farming for more than 20 years and he complimented SAFA on assembling a good team. Like Heddon, he said that land tenure is key.
“Farming is a great way to make a living: it will pay bills, it is healthy and it will help you build character,” he asserted.
Miaoulis suggested that farmers educate themselves online regarding agricultural practices keeping in mind that our most precious commodity is water.
Technical training was another major point.
Martin recalled that when he and several others were approached they had no knowledge of farming at the time, so it should have been expected that they would face challenges. Heddon weighed in on this matter noting that there needs to be proper in-house training, and that an extension officer must be present on Abaco.
Nevertheless, Martin was pleased that SAFA now has Thompson as a link between them and BAIC.
“They asked us to farm, so we are only asking for technical knowledge and the tools to farm,” Martin stated. “They always like to remind us about the Andros farmers, but they always have someone to go to – he is their extension officer. In many cases the farms are more superior on Abaco, but the difference is they have this one man they can call on.”
Other concerns centered on temporary structures on farm land; BAIC not fulfilling its commitments to farmer; overgrown farms roads and no access to fire roads; wild hogs; and the absence of training workshops.
Additionally, some farmers were alarmed earlier in the year to receive an eviction letter from the Ministry of Agricultural that stated that after a farm inspection was carried out there were no signs of farming activity taking place. Heddon concluded that every time we have a new government in place, the policy changes. He recommended that a definitive agricultural policy be put in place.
Moving forward, Martin said the association will be working with Bahamas Food Services (BFS) to introduce a new marketing system. BFS wants farmers to stagger the planting of their crops, so that throughout the majority of the year certain crops are available.
On Nov.11, John Burrows a marketing liaison with BAIC is expected to visit Abaco.
Johnson made an appeal for all attendees to join the association and attend meetings regularly. He eventually wants to establish a website for SAFA, and have a farmers’ social at BAIC.
The meeting ended with a reminder to members to maintain their financial commitments to association, which consists of a $50 initiation fee, and $20 per month thereafter. The association would like to receive another grant that will assist them with the completion of the SAFA office and a farming supply store.