By John Hedden
Historically the Bahamas has never been able to establish a permanently viable commercial agricultural sector. This is first reflected in the failure of the plantation system in islands throughout the archipelago.
Investment in both pineapple and citrus production was not successful in the long term even though the export market was exploited. Later, ventures into sugar cane grow out and processing, the winter production of fruit and vegetables for foreign markets, as well as dairy and beef, and small ruminant grow out for local consumption have also failed.
The only farming that has proven ‘sustainable’ are the slash and burn practiced by the Lucayans, and later subsistence farming throughout the islands. These methods were only viable for family and immediate settlement provision on a small scale. These were never ‘commercial’ ventures.
Investment in the commercial operations of the last century were mainly through foreign capital and technological provision with no direct involvement from the Bahamian government except for the provision of ‘Crown land in Kind’. All ventures to date have collapsed for various reasons including the poor quality of our ‘soils’ expressed in sustainable yields, political mismanagement, foreign embargoes on Bahamian exports, competition from other regions, costs of production, and inability to adhere to foreign regulations.
However, in today’s search for sector development the Bahamian government is actively encouraging investment through foreign capital and technology. In this case it is the Chinese government through its quasi corporate/state controlled operations. It would seem there is no reference to Bahamian expertise except as ‘fronts’ for the Chinese enterprises. (We already have one such front operation on the old sugar mill area in the south of Abaco).
To me this appears to be yet another ‘Easy way out’ on our part, where no planning for development, or concerns for the maintenance of our fragile natural resources are being taken into account. This again reflects on the abdication of responsibility of the Bahamian landlord (government) to protect our environment.
Operators will be allowed to manage as they see fit, with no supervision from local authoritative institutions.
Unfortunately the Chinese do not have a good track record for environmental protection in either their own country or in other countries where investments have been made. It is not that Chinese regulations are not in place, but corruption and bribery allow for no active oversight of in country operations. I see no reason for them to behave in a different manner here in our country, unless the Bahamas enacts and enforces laws and regulations specifically designed to protect our sensitive and non-renewable resources. Along with this must come realistic monitoring and regulation of any agricultural, and marine activity in the country, including home based ventures from Bahamian entrepreneurs.
As an aside I would include the sensitive fisheries industry and marine environment as a part of any laws and regulations.
It is now well recognised that agricultural and industrial activities can have a deleterious effect on local ecological systems, biodiversity, and the biological and health welfare of local natural and human populations. A prime example of this is the Syntex environmental and health impacts on local populations in Grand Bahama, where children in schools were seriously affected by life threatening pollutants and dangerous contaminants released into the air and waters around the plant. Eventually the schools were moved to ‘safe’ areas. However no monitoring and regulations were put in place to prevent further poisoning taking place.
To my mind it is essential that our law makers follow through with environmental and health regulations and monitoring systems to protect the population and the natural environment on which we live and feed, to survive in a healthy and protected atmosphere.
At the present time our casual and crony based approach to development only leads to a confused, disorderly, unhealthy and poorly managed economy open to corruption, with no chance of a well-structured and growth oriented programme, monitored and regulated in an efficient and controlled manner.