By John Hedden
Following from the first part of my discourse (See Nov 15 Paper) I would take the opportunity to examine the input of the government of The Bahamas to developing an agricultural sector since Independence in 1973.
Up to the time of independence the Hatchet Bay Company owned and operated by an American industrialist (Levy), which operated out of Alice Town in Eleuthera, was providing dairy products as well as chicken to the Bahamian public through its outlets in Nasssau. However the operation was bought out by the government and managed by the newly incorporated (quasi government) Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC) under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
In a few short years the whole concern went bankrupt and was subsequently closed.
However BAIC was charged with developing and assisting commercial agricultural projects for the benefit of the Bahamian population and entrepreneurs. At the same time the then Minister of Agriculture had determined that The Bahamas would be self-sufficient in food production within 10 years.
Unfortunately no successful projects were developed, and by 1985 the farming population in the country had seriously declined and local production was at a very low ebb. Since then the number of farmers has continued to decline to the state it is in today, with less than 1000 farmers active in the country providing much less than 1% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Successive governments have all laid out in their election manifestos the importance of renovating the agricultural sector as an important instrument in feeding ourselves. To date none have put any serious commitment into developing a programme with long reaching planning and commitment.
The most catastrophic situation occurred when the US government handed over the BARTAD project to the Bahamian government in the late 1970’s as a fully functional research and farmer training facility. Due to lack of Bahamian financial and management input the project collapsed.
Ironically the new government impetus to self-sufficiency initiated the BAMSI institute on the same site as the defunct BARTAD project. This project seems to be shrouded in secrecy and any positive press releases are purely ‘in house’ with no independent verification of what is really going on. To top the whole BAMSI matter the minister of agriculture last month declared erroneously and unconvincingly to the public that this operation had already injected $100 million of local production into the consumer’s bread basket.
Considering the injection of many millions of taxpayers dollars into this project why have encouraging results not been seen at this time.
As is so often the case the public has been inundated with political jargon about self-sufficiency, but farmers on the ground have seen no progress in farming assistance through extension (education) services, veterinary services for animal husbandry, and fisheries assistance.
If we compare ourselves to the United States and Europe we fail miserably. These countries place a real value on agricultural production and its importance to their national economies. To this end they have developed extremely efficient outreach programmes, and invested heavily in subsistence support and guarantees in the form of farm aid. In short they have created a favourable environment to maintain and further develop the sector.
To a similar end for Bahamian agriculture the government needs to address some serious shortfalls, listed below.
Lack of genuine access to public land through non-existent lease programmes, which at least should layout conditions and commitments for both the landlord and the lessee.
No real concessions to ventures, which should naturally occur through a now highly manipulated and cannibalized encouragement act. All inputs should become duty free automatically.
A non-existent educational and extension service from a ministry that functions only to farm paper by shuffling documents to and fro internally.
Lack of realistic assistance with storage, marketing, and processing logistics. And at the other end no assistance with farm inputs, varities, growout conditions and requirements.
A dearth of assistance with setting up businesses through the supposed SMBE programme.
No creation of a favourable environment to encourage local entrepreneurs to venture into any agricultural enterprise.
No agricultural development plan applicable to the farmer.
No research, breeding and evaluation trials.
No tapping of the wealth of Bahamian expertise that already exists outside of government in the private sector.
In short to date the government has made no genuine input into developing a viable agricultural sector.
But of course it is much simpler and easier to bring in foreign enterprises and governments to develop in their own interests, and not the interests of the Bahamas. Where are the rules and regulations to protect our own natural resources whether terrestrial or marine?
Look for Part III next issue.