Government Getting Serious About Agriculture
FREEPORT, Grand Bahama – Making it clear that his Ministry is serious about making inroads to the country’s agricultural needs, Minister for Agriculture, Marine Resources and Local Government, V. Alfred Gray, issued a challenge to all Bahamians to grow what they can, and buy what they must.
Mr. Gray met with farmers and fishermen on Grand Bahama, June 29, at the Freeport Produce Exchange and used the occasion to outline the government’s assistance programme to promote farming.
Minister Gray emphasised that the Government has both the land and the money to ensure growth in the agricultural sector.
He told Grand Bahamians that “I want people who are serious. I have been Minister of Agriculture before, and I was too cautious, I believe. But now I have a different approach.”
Addressing the large audience of mostly farmers and fishermen, the Minister focused firstly on agriculture, stating that “the Government of The Bahamas is very serious about agriculture and agricultural involvement by Bahamians.
“We do not expect that the agricultural industry will be dominated by foreigners, when Bahamians ought to be first. That is the first thing! We include foreign investor! We welcome them as well but I expect Bahamians to become involved in the government’s quest to feed ourselves,” he stated.
He informed that currently The Bahamas imports some 90 percent of its food.
“Our food bill for The Bahamas is very close to $800 million a year and we only produce about $100 million of that, meaning we depend on foreigners to feed us. And, if the foreigners were to get angry with us and say we are not sending anything to The Bahamas for the next six month, all of our collar bones would be showing.
“Why? We just don’t grow what we eat! And any country that is not prepared to get involved in feeding itself, is a country that is doomed to failure,” the Minister said.
He noted that America is so great because many see it as the “bread basket country of the world. We may never reach America’s stage, but certainly we could do better than we are doing right now.”
He said that too many Bahamians have the desire to work in coat and tie and in air-condition. He noted that if this was the case there would be no one around to do the plumbing and other jobs.
“The point I am making is that we need different people in different areas in order for all of us to survive. No fishermen, no Grouper and we all love it.
“The point I want to make is we have to get involved in the efforts to feed ourselves. The motto we have established going forward is: Buy what we must; Grow what we can, or the other way around: Grow what we Can; Buy what we must, meaning what we cannot grow, we will buy,” Mr. Gray said.
The Agriculture Minister further advised Bahamians that the climb to food security can begin by with backyard farming. He encouraged all to grow what they can in their backyard if they do not want to get into large scale farming, a move which he says would cut down on food bills at the store.
He went on to encourage Grand Bahamians and the nation at large to get involved in large scale farming.
The Minister also cautioned against all farmers producing the same products as the market would become over subscribed for that particular item. He suggested that some look at farming for example for pigeon peas, cucumbers and more.
“In other words, not everybody doing the same thing, but everybody doing something to meet our country’s demand. Because, if every body plant for tomatoes, who you going to sell it too? But when you have somebody doing tomatoes, someone doing cabbages, somebody doing pigeon peas, someone doing lettuce and we put it all together, we have food,” he shouted.
He told the gathering that he wants at least 10 persons to step forward and begin farming on a large scale.
“I have money to help you with. But you have to show me a plan that works. In other words, if you are not serious, do your little back yard farming and forget it.” he said.
He then informed that the Director for Agriculture was traveling with him and that he had just hired Mr. Godfrey Eneas who would be his Project Manager.
“I am dead serious! I have to do something about farming in the next couple of months. And if you are serious, we have the land in Grand Bahama, we have the technological know how,” he stated.
He told farmers that if they cannot do it alone then maybe they need to find a partner or partners and form a company.
“It doesn’t matter how we do it, but the time has come and partly gone where we could take farming as a thing where mainly only old people get involved in.
“Some young people are going to come out of school in Freeport, generally The Bahamas, and will not find jobs in the bank or whatever. They are going to have to, by no choice of their own, get involved. Just for survival.
“Somebody’s got to start it, somebody got to do it and it is my duty to encourage and assist those who come forward with a good idea. I told you we have the money! We may not have all the money that everybody need but I can assure you we help people with irrigation, land clearing, fencing and the list goes on. You come to us and let us know what you want to do,” he stated.
He pointed out that currently there is a great demand for pigeon peas and they have the land available for that and more.
Mr. Gray further told the gathering that “I have come down to look in your eye-ball and to tell you that if you are serious, we are, and if you do not want to come to Nassau, we will come to you.
“I have a mission! There are two things that I want to see happen in agriculture, (1) we are making a dent in our food import bill and (2) we are able to employ some of these people who are sitting on the blocks,” he said.
The Minister also pointed out that when Government gives someone land for farming purpose it should only be used for that purpose and not to build apartment and condos, as has been the case by some in the past.
“We have to be sure that those who get land for farming, farm, otherwise it defeats the purpose,” he said.
Mr. Gray also advised that the government is going to allow for duty-free exemption on trucks, heavy equipments and other items necessary for those bonafide persons involved in the fishing and farming industry.
He noted that he was pleased with the successes many Bahamians are having in fishing, but said his Ministry has the capacity to help grow the industry even to the point of growing fresh water fishes on land. He likewise gave some suggestions to fishermen on marketing their products.
By SIMON LEWIS
Bahamas Information Services