Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources, Michael Pintard, held a meeting on November 8 to address matters of concern to farmers in Abaco.
He spoke of his concerns regarding The Bahamas excessive reliance on imported food to survive, particularly about the quality and our economic leakage – for every dollar we earn we are spending the majority of that dollar importing many of the items we consume.
Mr. Pintard said his ambition is to increase agriculture’s contribution to the country; right now about 1.6 percent of our GDP comes from agriculture. “We have a lot of work to do.”
He said the primary goal is food security; “We need to produce enough food to sustain us as a population and have enough on reserve so if we have another incident like 9/11 that we don’t find ourselves in the position we found ourselves in before.”
Noting the high instances of non-communicable diseases which are a result of what we consume Mr. Pintard noted that “agriculture gives us a fighting chance to be in control of the quality of food we consume.”
He said from a personal standpoint he is not here to sell dreams. He said we are woefully off track in the amount of contribution that must be made by the government in order to assist agricultural practitioners.
He said “The entrepreneurs in Agriculture must also recognize there is more work they must do to treat what they do as a business and to know that government is only one partner, but is not your salvation.”
He said his job is to remove impediments that are in farmers’ way – legislation, policies and programs must help not hinder.
He said if there are things that they see government can do to assist he will seek to drive those things to see that farmers are able to achieve the outcome they desire.
Through BAIC (Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation) he hopes he will be able to put farmers in the same room with venture capitalists and funding that can help famers succeed.
Additionally, he wants to be able to put producers in the same room with buyers – hotels, restaurants, supermarkets and they have recently had conversation with cruise ships about provisioning ships.
He said that they want to create a producer’s manual so they know who to go to get particular items.
Farmers will need to produce consistently at a certain standard in a cost-effective way to be able to take full advantage of opportunities
In order to compete on the value proposition producers will need to scale up – “volume is key, because we are competing against countries with larger scale farms.”
He said that they are working with local retailers and wholesalers encouraging them wherever possible to buy local.
He said that the government will seek to work with farmers to help ensure that there is equipment available for land clearing.
Farmers attending the meeting expressed concerns about the availability of equipment for land clearing, noting years of struggle to get things done.
They added that they have had issues with access to funding for decades with much of the problems rooted in not being able to get clear titles on property that they were leased by government.
Frustrations were made known as it was stated that many of the farmers in the room have heard promises from administration after administration for decades but find themselves still in the same position.