Statement by Michael Pintard, Bahamas Minister of Agriculture & Marine Resources
#Nassau, The Bahamas – From April 27, 2020 — Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the great Constituency of Marco City to which I have the honour to represent.
Mr. Speaker, The Cabinet of The Bahamas has determined that food production is especially crucial in these times. And that whatever measures we put in place must be sustained beyond Covid-19. We take seriously the mandate that has been given by the Prime Minister to fix outstanding issues that may exist along the entire value chain and supply chain to ensure that The Bahamas has adequate food resources and the right food resources for the health and wealth of our people.
Strengthening existing partners and working with stakeholders to reach common objectives will be critically important to weather this crisis. My Ministry continue to make ourselves available to hear the concerns of farmers and fishers and will be making deliberate efforts to use the available technology to reach out to farmers and fishers throughout the country.
Mister Speaker, the COVID-19 crisis is an important opportunity for Bahamians to make healthier food choices by increasing their consumption of fruit and vegetables. There has been unprecedented interest expressed in farming over the last few months. We are responding quickly and carefully. We are making every effort to make local products accessible and affordable.
- The Packing Houses remain operational in all our Family Island locations (Andros, Cat Island, Eleuthera, and Long Island). The Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation continues to operate the Produce Exchange and The Bahamas Agricultural and Marine Science Institute has continued local produce purchases. Both agencies have reoriented their marketing to make ‘value boxes’ available to persons on New Providence who may be facing financial challenges and have instituted the social distancing protocols to protect employees and customers. Extended hours have been added on Saturday to facilitate essential workers.
Additionally, ‘The Market’ at Gladstone Road has also been opened to allow purchase of domestic agricultural products.
- Mr. Speaker, the long overdue renovations to packing houses in San Andros, North Andros, Clarence Town, Long Island, and Lower Bogue, Eleuthera will commence 1st May, 2020. Contracts have already been signed in the amount of four hundred fifty four thousand eight hundred and forty dollars ($454,840.00) to renovate the packing houses in the aforementioned islands.
- Mr. Speaker, the slaughter house in New Providence has been closed from the initial COVID-19 Emergency Order on March 23rd, 2020. The Government, in consultation with the relevant authorities is seeking a gradual opening of the abattoir to allow for the slaughter of animals. We anticipate that the abattoir will reopen on Tuesday 28th April, 2020. We will upgrade this facility as a matter of urgency. The growth of the livestock sector depends on a national slaughterhouse system throughout the relevant islands engaged in animal husbandry.
- The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Marine Resources have maintained essential services to farmers and fishers during the period by providing reduced hours to facilitate urgent matters including facilitating import and export permits. The Veterinary Services will be implementing telemedicine for livestock farmers on New Providence and the Family Islands. The information on the times and link for services will be posted on the website of the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources.
- Mr. Speaker, the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources (MAMR) has also produced an Emergency Food Production Plan to strengthen food and nutrition security in this time of crisis. It includes the assistance to farmers in the clearing of Agricultural Land of which one million eighteen thousand six hundred dollars ($1,018,600.00) has been allocated to farmers throughout The Bahamas with four hundred seventy-nine thousand six hundred dollars ($479,600.00) out of the said figure being allocated to Grand Bahama and Abaco (those islands devastated by Hurricane Dorian). These funds have already been sent to the affected islands.
- Mr. Speaker, my Ministry is in the process of purchasing and distributing some ten thousand (10,000) backyard gardening kits throughout The Bahamas. The kits will include seeds, seedling, fertilizer, drip line, and pro-mix along with guidelines of how to arrange a proper backyard gardening system. The distribution of these kits should begin in two weeks.
- Mr. Speaker, our Ministry is sourcing more than one thousand (1000) hydroponic systems which will be strategically placed throughout The Bahamas to assist with producing adequate supplies of vegetables especially leafy greens. The MAMR in collaboration with the Ministry of Education is adding an additional 22 hydroponics systems to the previously agreed upon number of hydroponics and aquaponics systems which will be placed in schools throughout The Bahamas.
- Mr. Speaker, two thousand layer chicks have been purchased from a local vendor and will be distributed to the Family Islands as soon as this week. This will provide additional protein and encourage farmers in the various communities to produce eggs for their local economy. Additionally, some five thousand (5000) layers are on order from a company in the United Stated and would be available within the next three weeks for distribution to New Providence farmers. On receipt of these birds/layers, it is intended to purchase an additional 5000 to 7000 layers to assist farmers further. The MAMR has begun planning to work with the sector about urgently upgrading the available hatcheries so that we can in the short to medium term dramatically increase egg production throughout the Bahamas especially on New Providence, Eleuthera, Abaco and Grand Bahama in phase one.
- The Ministry’s Food processing and Cooperative leadership in conjunction with BAIC and BAMSI and later with Home Economic Teachers and private enterprises will shortly lay out our plan to accelerate and scale up food processing and light manufacturing.
- Mr. Speaker, the Department of Marine Resources plays a pivotal role in the dietary consumption of seafood and the protection of our Marine Resources. During Hurricane Dorian, Marine Resources vessels were damaged/destroyed and we have already paid a 50% deposit of two hundred fifty-four thousand five hundred and twenty dollars ($254,520.00) for three vessels allocated for Bimini, Grand Bahama, and Abaco with which we expect to replace those vessels lost.
- Furthermore, we continue to discuss a plan of action to keep both subsistence and commercial fishers fully engaged in order to feed our nation and earn foreign currency. Discussions are underway to ensure the reopening of fish markets in a safe manner and the safe delivery of marine products to stores and customers.
- In addition, my Ministry is also in the process of partnering with the Ministry of Social Services, the Ministry of Health, The Ministry of National Security (Royal Bahamas Police Force), the Ministry of Transport and Local Government, the Ministry of Education and also food suppliers and wholesalers, and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to launch the National Food Distribution Program to ensure, as the Prime Minister stated, that no vulnerable person is left behind.
Mr. Speaker, the program will target Senior Citizens and Disabled, Persons receiving Social Services Assistance, Students on the School Lunch Program and Furloughed Workers. Mr. Speaker, the distribution will include a number of dried goods but even more importantly Bahamian grown fruits and vegetables, Bahamian marine products, Bahamian jams, jellies, honey, Bahamian meats, Bahamian soaps, etc.
- Mr. Speaker in order to ensure that adequate animal feed and agriculture inputs are available to farmers in the various islands and that we reduce wastage in the movement of agriculture and marine products our Ministry is documenting available dry, cool and cold storage space.
- Since we last met we have begun to forge important partnerships upon which we will build. We are excited about the meetings held with church leaders about national and local agriculture projects we will work on together. We are encouraged by the initial meeting with the new generation of agro-youth professionals who are committed to the full incorporation of new technologies in all aspects of agriculture and marine resources. We intend to assist them in several key areas as they assist the sector. Our discussions with approximately 16 Agriculture educators resulted in several key commitments on both sides. I and the Ministry team have participated in more than two Ministerial meeting with Ministers throughout the region sharing best practices and plugging the data gap. We are in ongoing discussions with the leaders in the fishing and farming sector.
These are challenging times at a national and personal level for our entire nation. Constituents and staff members have lost loved ones and other staff, in every section of the ministry, (Department of Agriculture, Department of Marine Resources, Cooperatives, Regatta, BAIC, BAMSI, and BAHFSA), and despite these difficult circumstances show up to work daily and on weekends. I am indeed grateful to them and to the farmers and fishers throughout the archipelago for their dedication and support.
Thank you, Mister Speaker, for this opportunity to update the Honourable House.