Around 30 Abaco farmers held a meeting with the Department of Agriculture on November 20. The meeting was called and chaired by local Dept. head, Josephina Curry. Though a team from Nassau was scheduled to be present to hear local farmers’ concerns, they were unable to make it. Despite the Nassau representatives being absent, the meeting proceeded.
The farmer’s concerns were recorded and a letter drafted listing them. The letter will be sent to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Agriculture, the Director of Agriculture and the Chairman of BAIC.
The concerns include the need for two farm tractors to facilitate small farmers for the upcoming Expo, duty free concessions being restored for replacement parts of existing machinery, VAT exemptions on import goods, permission for farmers with tractors to take their tractors off-farm to help neighboring farmers, and the need for land clearing assistance.
Abaco farmers expressed concern about the high cost of transporting Agricultural Products inter island. They felt Abaco has been treated unfairly over the years.
Two other major concerns were the need for a multipurpose packing house and processing plant and the need for an Extension Officer being assigned to Abaco.
The Bahama Palm Groves Packing House, which used to buy from all local farmers, had been shut down years prior. An Extension Officer is a trained officer with scientific knowledge who is able to help local farmers.
Mrs. Curry thanked the farmers for attending and spoke briefly about the upcoming Abaco Agriculture Expo in 2015. Though there were concerns that there would be no short term crops available to be showcased, most farmers in attendance agreed that March was the best date to have it, regardless.
Farmers were dismayed by the slow response time of the Department when requests were made. One complained that the 6-8 weeks it took to get permission to do something often resulted in the loss of crops.
There was a strong feeling among the group of farmers that the government only paid “lip service” of supporting agriculture in The Bahamas and that the actual policies in place were detrimental, especially to Family Island farmers. They cited that farm machine parts were no longer duty free, this placing a heavy, new financial burden.
They decried how Agriculture policy was constantly changing, often without warning. The farmers complained that this is discouraging not only established farmers, but preventing newer ones from joining the industry.
With the establishment of BAMSI (Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute) the farmers felt they would have to compete with the government as well.
The farmers agreed that “We need to come together, as an island” if they wanted to get anything accomplished. They felt years of meetings with government were an exercise in futility.
Josephina Curry, who did an excellent job moderating the discussion, said one of the best things Abaco farmers had going for them was that “You have always marketed yourselves.” She said the best way forward for Abaco farmers would be holding on to this identity of self-starters, entrepreneurs and marketers.
Those in attendance agreed but stated that more cooperation amongst themselves was needed.
The concerns of the farmers were noted and a letter drafted. Mrs. Curry will collect signatures of local farmers before sending it to the proper recipients in Nassau.