South Abaco Farmer’s Association (SAFA) members held their monthly meeting on Jan. 30 at the Dundas Town Burial Society. The meeting was attended by a team of Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC) officials in the absence of Arnold Forbes, BAIC’s executive chairman.
BAIC guests included: Arnold Dorsett, assistant general manager (AGM) of the Agriculture Division; Judith Thompson, AGM Land Acquisition; John Burrows, Marketing Manager; Anthon Thompson, asst. manager of Agriculture Division; and Patrice Cox, manager of BAIC’s Marsh Harbour Office.
Following an 18-month break, Vanria Lightbourne led the meeting with opening remarks yielding the floor to SAFA Presidents Leslie Thompson and George Martin for their Presidents’ Overview. Thompson was happy about the partnership between SAFA and BAIC, and pledged to give his continued assistance.
Likewise, Martin encouraged the members to work as a team, and shared that he was happy to see everybody excited about farming again. Although there have been challenges, Martin said he was hopeful that BAIC can lighten the load and revitalize farming on Abaco.
Next, Jacqueline Estevez gave the Treasurer’s Report for the Fiscal Year 2013 report. She disclosed that the account balance is a little more than $100, so she urged existing members and prospective members to ensure that their registration fees of $50 is paid along with their $20 monthly dues.
Annually, SAFA’s legal fees alone amount to $900.
After the Legal Report vas given by Vanria Lightbourne, Arnold Dorsett gave his presentation.
In his remarks, Dorsett assured that BAIC will live up to its commitment to farmers.
“Take on the challenge to produce more locally,” Dorsett suggested. “It can be achieved as a group.”
Judith Thompson noted that BAIC officials are aware of the challenges experienced by farmers particularly with the aggressive bamboo grass found in the Spring City and Norman Castle areas and are exploring ways to assist them. She recognized that five acres of land is difficult for farmers who have no equipment and no funding to maintain the area.
“So the same concerns you have, we have been painstakingly trying to address it on how to set up that whole area to make it more productive,” Thompson said. “Spring City is not in order unfortunately; it is not laid out properly [and] we are working painstakingly to try to go ahead to reproduce a plan to put it in place.
“We are your friends, and we are your partners; we are working with you.”
By March 30, all farmers need to be regularized, so last year, all BAIC clients received a lease offer letter.
“This is the first letter signed by the chairman, which shows his commitment to giving his support. You can stay in the five acres with the grass, but acknowledge receipt of the letter, and say that you will remain there. If you want to move, this is your chance while we are resurveying.”
She told farmers to go to BAIC’s Abaco Office to complete an application form because their file should still be active. Farmers who prefer the two-acre plots and want to escape the bamboo grass can move to the front area of Spring City.
“We have seen the agricultural product for Abaco; it was successful,” she said. “At the end of the day, you cannot always rely on the government – the government is here to help you.”
During the question and answer segment, John Hedden said that it is essential that infrastructure be addressed mentioning that there is a stress factor of shipping livestock from Abaco to New Providence. Additionally, he commented that while he has heard a lot about the country’s 20-year Agricultural Plan, he has not seen it.
Dorsett said they have considered mobile slaughter facilities, and are looking to duplicate the Bahamas Agricultural and Marine Science Research Institute on Andros in more islands.
Burrows’ focus was on quality, consistency and standards during his presentation. He announced their plans to adopt HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) certified farms, so that farmers can access local and international markets.
A new Farmers’ Database will develop traceability schemes, which works in hand with access to companies like Bahamas Food Services, Atlantis, and BahaMar that are interested in Bahamian grown products. These steps will lead to the creation of a Bahamian brand with certification backing.
Burrows said they will organize farmers with a planting schedule that is designed to stagger their planting, and to prevent products from spoiling in the Produce Exchange in Nassau. BAIC will be more detailed in its marketing approach, and work closely with associations to actively market their produce from the day they plant their seeds.
A Standards Desk along with a Testing Facility will also be established to allow Bahamian farmers access to the international market.
“For us to access that market, we have to build that confidence that the produce that has been growing right here locally will be of the consistency and quality that they are looking for,” Burrows said.
Unfortunately, with no Bureau of Standards in place it sends the message that our country has no standards, so we cannot refuse importers bringing in certain products like those marked: For Export Only.
Anthon Thompson was the final speaker, and again emphasized the need for cooperation and a coordination of all efforts. At BAIC, his responsibility is to assist persons in the central role of operating business by identify their expenses, finding ways to market their crops and livestock, and bringing all of those elements together to successfully penetrate market. He looked forward to liaising with farmers to help them developing a business plan and marketing skills.
Finally, the existing SAFA board was dissolved and new members were elected. The results determined that the President is George Martin; Vice President: Duane Johnson; Treasurer: Deon Edwards; Assistant Treasurer: Jacquelyn Estevez; Secretary: Mary Dames; Assistant Secretary: Rose Bethel; Public Relations Officer: Shanishka Cambridge; Assistant Public Relations Officer: Brent Brooks;
Marketing Director: Vashti Johnson; Assistant Marketing Director: Oneil Leathen; Sergeant at Arms: Gail Hepburn; Assistant Sergeant at Arms: Emalin Sawyer; Chaplin: Errol Thurston Sr.; Assistant Chaplin: Eulamae Pinder
The next SAFA meeting is scheduled for Feb. 25.