A nation’s ability to feed its citizens is by far one of the most important markers of true development. At a time when our regional counterparts have managed to position and market themselves as exporters of produce, fruit and vegetables, the Bahamas has remained nothing more than a consumer. Sadly, here at home, successive governments have paid only lip service to the idea of agricultural development. Now, it appears that this visionless Minnis administration is hell bent on continuing the trend. Like other Bahamians, we in the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) were shocked to hear the PM gush about the possibility of having products grown in Haiti on his plate.
His comments immediately struck a nerve particularly with local farmers who have been agitating for government support and raises serious questions about the government’s commitment to the development of the country’s agricultural sector. After spending millions of dollars in taxpayer funds to establish and maintain BAMSI it appears that the government is prepared to cut the program off at the knees. Were farmers even consulted before the PM made his grand pronouncement? Did he even consider the implications of his decisions or his public commentary? And what of the health and safety implications? Clearly local farmers were the furthest thing from the Prime Minister’s mind during his trip to Haiti and once again Bahamians are made a second-rate option.
Since the announcement the government has, as it is prone to do, is now attempting to backtrack from its position. In comments to the media, the agriculture minister attempted to paint the move as nothing more than an effort by the government to cut out the US “middle-man”. His words however only further betray the government’s lack of vision. Rather than use this as an opportunity to empower Bahamian farmers and invigorate the sector, this government has yet again chosen a ‘foreign is better’ approach to governance. While the DNA is not opposed to improving trade relationships with our regional counterparts, Bahamian interests must always be at the fore.
The DNA has long believed that entrepreneurs in the agribusiness sector should be given the kind of modern support that will help them meet their targets, and more importantly feed our nation. As part of our vision 2017 and Beyond, the DNA proposed several plans geared at truly exploring agriculture as an economic driver for the Bahamas and create new employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for Bahamians wishing to take advantage of it. Among those initiatives are plans to make farming equipment used in the production of cash crops with a considerable market for direct production exempt from duties. The DNA also proposed the introduction of a local farmer’s directory to track seasonal times for planting and harvesting as well as improved legislation that protects our resources while allowing for the local regional and international export of our own produce to various other markets.
In a 21st century Bahamas we can no longer sit idly by while the rest of the world profits. Our leaders must abandon the foreign is better mentality and instead work to create environments where we as a people can flourish and feed ourselves in both the literal and figurative sense.
DNA Interim Leader