Buyers, from left, Don Carnine of Bahama Food Services, Wesley Bastian of Subway Restaurants, and Patrick Treco of Continental Food Company inspect cabbages at the government packing house in North Andros. (Photo by Gladstone Thurston)
By: Gladstone Thurston
NORTH ANDROS – The government is to purchase 502 acres of farmland in North Andros from Kerzner International, a farmers/buyers meeting was told.
The property is to be vested in Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC) and used to promote farming. Much of the land is already being used by Andros farmers to cultivate a wide variety of products for export.
BAIC intends to lease the property to persons interested in agricultural production.
Agriculture and Marine Resources Minister Larry Cartwright and BAIC chairman Edison Key toured North Andros farming facilities last weekend to promote direct connection between farmers and buyers.
They were accompanied by Patrick Treco of Continental Food Company, Don Carnine of Bahama Food Services, Cranston Hanna of Prime Bahamas, Wesley Bastian of Subway Restaurants, Dr. Marikis N Alvarez of the Inter-American Institute for Co-operation on Agriculture, and a team from the Ministry and the Corporation.
“In making every decision on every policy, I’m fully committed to putting farmers and fishermen first,” said Mr. Cartwright.
He toured farms, BAIC properties, the government packing house, the proposed handicraft market in Red Bays, and the YEAST Camp.
“When you succeed the whole country succeeds,” he told the meeting. “It is you first because we have to have vibrant and sustainable agriculture and fisheries industries if we are to feed ourselves.
“And this government must work hard to help you to grow and succeed through the provision of innovation and technology.”
Mr. Cartwright noted that the efficiency of the agricultural sector can be improved through an effective marketing system. He encouraged direct marketing between farmers and non-governmental organizations, co-operatives and private companies.
“Direct marketing enables farmers and buyers to economize on transportation costs and to improve price realizations considerably. So, it is very important for us to build a sound agricultural marketing system and help our farmers to access it.”
Production levels “are becoming increasingly significant,” he said, and this trend is expected to continue.
“So, we have to upgrade our facilities for post harvest handling to include cleaning, washing, drying, packaging, labeling, and even cold storage for your produce to improve its marketability.
“When produce leaves Andros it should be ready for any market, local or international.”
Mr. Cartwright also underscored the need for agro processing.
“Due to the perishable nature of agricultural products and their seasonality, we need to convert excesses of these products, so that they can be available to consumers all year round.
“Those undersized, perfectly matured fruit and vegetables that are not marketable can be processed and packaged for market.”
BAIC chairman Mr. Key said he was impressed by the production he saw in North Andros.
He praised the agricultural program at the North Andros High School, under the direction of tutor Rai Budhu.
“I was very impressed as I drove through the fields…you are trying, but you need help and that is why we are here,” said Mr. Key.
“We have some money in BAIC and hopefully we might be able to buy you a tractor and a disk and maybe some other pieces of equipment to assist you,” he said. “We want to see North Andros become the breadbasket of the Bahamas.”
About $500 million in food is imported annually, he noted.
“There lays the parameter for a major industry,” he said. “But we, as a people, must get serious about it.”
Each week trailer loads of fruit and vegetables are brought into Nassau from South Florida.
“Why do we want to make these farmers rich when we could be using that money to expand our agricultural industry and keep that hard currency in the Bahamas?
“I would like to see at least 50 per cent of that leaving Andros going into Nassau. You are only ten minutes away. You are blessed.
“I am going to do everything possible to assist the Minister to make agriculture a success in the Bahamas. I want you in Andros to work with us,” Mr. Key said.