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The Bahamas Working to Cut its Food Import Bill

NASSAU, Bahamas – Recognizing the extensive import food bill and the shortages experienced after each hurricane, The Bahamas has embarked on a mission to grow as much of its food as possible, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources the Hon. Lawrence Cartwright said at the opening of the 2nd Annual Agricultural, Marine Resources and Agribusiness Expo.

The Ministry of Agriculture has implemented a number of initiatives to make sure the mission is a success and to cut the country spending about US$500 million, Mr. Cartwright said Thursday.

“Recently,” he noted, “the backyard gardening programme has been launched with a view to encouraging persons to plant agricultural crops to supplement their household needs while providing some recreation and some peace of mind.”

Other projects include a tree planting project with prime focus on coconuts, citrus, avocado and mango crops, a greenhouse and hot pepper project and a root crops project.

The Minister also explained that a crop insurance scheme is being finalised and will assist in servicing the deficits brought on by damage due to extreme weather conditions.

And in an effort to strengthen agricultural institutions and to build the capacity of producers, the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources has deepened its relations with international and hemispheric organisations.

Mr. Cartwright pointed to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) recently signed between The Bahamas and the People’s Republic of China which will provide the framework for collaboration and corporation between the two countries along with receiving assistance from the Chinese.

Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Hubert Ingraham in his remarks at the opening, said an international firm has been engaged to provide embryos and technical knowledge to inform the Ministry’s initiatives in strengthening the country’s stock of small ruminants – sheep and goats.

Regarding the leasing of land for agricultural use Mr. Ingraham said, “We are presently conducting an audit of 65,000 acres of land long-leased from the Crown to the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources in New Providence, Grand Bahama, Abaco, Andros and Eleuthera.”

“As you will be aware,” he continued, “we have discovered that in a number of cases land leased for the purpose of food production has been diverted from that purpose for speculative purposes. We do not propose to regularise such unauthorised diversions or permit the same to continue.”

The Hon. Larry Cartwright, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources is pictured with students of Westminster College at the official opening ceremony of the 2nd Annual Bahamas Agricultural, Marine Resources and Agribusiness Expo
(BIS Photo/Raymond A. Bethel)

The Prime Minister said he was advised that at present, there may be some 2,000 farmers in The Bahamas whose production stands at some 10 per cent of agricultural potential.

“By increasing production to 50 per cent of our potential we could create significant activity in the economy beginning with the creation of a significant number of additional jobs. Similar estimations can be made for the potential of fisheries, handicraft and agribusiness.”

He said there is no better time than now to re-define agriculture. “There is no better time than now for us to re-evaluate and re-tool this sector so that the vast potential that exists can be fully explored and exploited in a scientific and sustainable manner.”

Prime Minister Ingraham said the Government remains committed to encouraging agriculture and supporting the development of food processing.

‘Toward this end, we will upgrade agricultural services; establish a farmer’s credit programme and a hurricane and disaster insurance fund to assist farmers suffering loss from natural disasters.”

Farmers at the three-day Expo will display their finest produce and products and engage in friendly competition in the categories of livestock, vegetables, fruits, root crops and ornamentals.

Related businesses in the food industry will showcase an assortment of skills from the craft industry, food and drink processors, marine harvesters, garden clubs, school gardens, youth groups and science and technology institutes.

The winners in each category will be announced and awarded prizes.

Minister Cartwright said the public would be enlightened and entertained by a series of workshops and presentations on various agriculturally related topics by both local and foreign presenters.

The topics include native teas, plasticulture (a system of growing crops in a way so that a significant benefit is derived from using plastic polymers), greenhouse technology, composting, the Ministry’s embryo project, the importance of veterinary medicines to the health of livestock and marine resources new technologies.

“The production of sustainable local agricultural and marine production and consumption towards improving food security is our goal,” Mr. Cartwright said.

“Indeed it is anticipated that this expo will forge and strengthen new and existing linkages and economic partnerships with wholesalers and the tourism sector whereby promoting sustainability in the food industry.”

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