While the government speaks about encouraging and growing the agricultural sector, their actions send mixed messages according to Abaco Big Bird’s Operations Manager Lance Pinder.
In September, Minister of Agriculture Michael Pintard lauded the domestic poultry sector’s growth potential as “huge” given that it currently supplies just 15 percent of the Bahamian market. He was addressing the 15th annual Abaco Business Outlook conference.
Mr. Pinder said government “definitely has a role to play” if The Bahamas is to increase its poultry output.
“When you’re fighting all the time, competing with the imported stuff, it really discourages people. The upfront costs and access to financing are also big issues.”
For years the poultry farm has utilized exemptions provided through both the Ministry of Agriculture (for farm related supplies) and through the Industries Encouragement Act (for processing equipment and supplies), but that has now changed.
Mr. Pinder says that they have to apply for all exemptions through Agriculture as they are now no longer allowed to utilize the Industries Encouragement Act (IEA).
“The benefit of the exemptions from the [IEA] is that we could give them a list of items we would need for the year ahead and work of that list. We can get the same through Agriculture but we would have to apply for an exemption for each shipment which is much less efficient.”
Imported items and cost of production he said are the primary challenges they face to their growth and success.
The cost of shipping, electricity, labour all factor in to the ability to compete against imported poultry; “when you can buy a chicken for less than a pound of corn; local farmers are unable to compete with that. At least not on price.”
While the Bahamas has in recent years introduced a Standards Bureau which is supposed to regulate and ensure quality of products imported and exported, it is voluntary.
The inherent challenge of an archipelago and the cost and logistics of shipping between islands is also a limiting factor, “but that’s always going to be an issue.”
Mr. Pinder said that he feels, if things were equitable, there is potential for his farm to double in size and production.
“Unless you count exemptions as subsidies farmers don’t get many benefits,” he said, noting that Tourism is heavily subsidized.
He said, “Countries where agriculture is thriving are heavily supported and protected by their government; it just depends on the political will to do it.”