Thursday, August 9, 2018
BY NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
AGRICULTURE and Marine Resources Minister Michael Pintard said yesterday government is taking steps with "urgency" to help build capacity in the local agricultural sector, acknowledging there were far too many "gaps" in discussions with local farmers.
Mr Pintard told Tribune Business: "We are committed to building the capacity of persons in this sector. That includes helping them get the technical assistance in effectively managing and growing their enterprises. It's important for persons involved in livestock and crop production to know what are the inputs I need, in what quantities, what is the yield I am likely to get from a certain crop under cultivation and the potential yield of that crop upon harvest. That information is very useful and that is why the shift at BAMSI is to more research and less and less about production which we believe the commercial sector is more qualified to carry out."
Mr Pintard said government is also keen on assisting farmers with their marketing strategies.
"We are very good at production, we have not been good at distribution. A lot of what we produce are wasting on the Family Islands and on New Providence to some extent," he said.
"We want to help farmers properly package, market their products and get them to market. Presently the packing houses, BAMSI and BAIC is playing a pivotal role but I think we must transition out of that state to empower the farmers through co-operatives and commercial enterprises to better distribute their products."
Mr Pintard also foreshadowed an overhaul of the feed store system. "We must improve dramatically the store that provides the farmers with feed, fertilizers and ensure that there is consistency of supply. We are going to do an overhaul of that system. We will be having discussion with private sector folks who might be better suited to administer such facilities. We are also looking at enter public private partnerships that can build the infrastructure that can service farmers and fishermen. These are some of the steps we are taking with some urgency. We want to have ongoing dialogue with farmers so we can get timely information and data to inform policy decisions and legislative decisions. The gaps in terms of the timelines for discussion with the farming community is too infrequent and has been for a very long period of time and we intend to sixths in the short to medium term."
Bahamian farmers were yesterday said to be eager for a sit down with government to air their concerns.
"The government has not yet come to the table to indicate their interest in assisting the farmers except for the subsidies they say are on the books now. There are still difficulties obtaining the subsidies on the books. There is a lot of talk but nothing really happening for the farmers at this point from the government side," said president of the Farmers United Association Caron Shepherd. The association has roughly 100 members.
Ms Shepherd expressed concerns over subsidies for feed; theft of livestock and goods as well as avenues to get crops and livestock into the local markets and possibly international markets.
"The farming industry has been neglected for many moons. Government after government hasn't given it the attention it desires in order for it to be profitable the way it should. We are not blaming the government for everything but substantial support is needed from the government for the farmers. The industry has sort of been left to its own devices," said Ms Shepherd.
She added: "We note that we have a new minister and we were giving him a few weeks to get settled before we have an audience with him. I'm hoping we can have an audience with him before the season begins in September. This is the preparation time now for the farmers to start preparing for the season, come September, October."
THE FUA had submitted a proposal in March 2017 to the Christie administration and subsequently to the Minnis administration in May, making its case for $60 million worth of government financial assistance, so that its members can recover from 2016s Hurricane Matthew and livestock deaths. Ms Shepherd stressed that farmers were not looking for 'handouts'.