Govt. focusing on food security  

FOCUSED ON FOOD SECURITY – The Bahamas Government through its Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources is moving forward with initiatives to secure provisions for residents throughout the country, as food security becomes a major concern worldwide. Acting Undersecretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources, Don Cornish (pictured), assured local farmers will receive assistance. (PHOTO: BARBARA WALKIN)

Food security has become a major concern, particularly since the worldwide pandemic COVID-19 threatened exportation, importation and production, locally and internationally.

As a result, The Bahamas Government through its Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources is moving forward with initiatives to secure provisions for residents throughout the country, according to a government official.

While several programs are on the agenda, Acting Undersecretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources Don Cornish, in a recent interview with this daily, informed that feed for individuals growing chickens will be distributed.

“This is a part of the initiative to face food security, as best we can, in Grand Bahama and The Bahamas,” said Cornish. “The Grand Bahama’s initiative includes feed for chickens, for persons who are growing chickens, as well as provision of chicks that will be coming soon.”

He noted that the first batch of feed which has already been received, is the advance shipment, and, every month there will be a load.

This, he explained, is intended to ensure that farmers are able to produce layers, as well as chickens for the market.

“There have been some persons who have expressed interest in it recently, who are engaging in poultry for the first time, which we are very happy about. There are some persons who have taken the initiative already, along the experienced farmers. However, going forward, what we want to do is have this as part of our overall plan of meat production. So, we intend to look at other opportunities,” said Cornish.

He added that the ministry has received cassava and potato shoots from BAMSI, which too, have been distributed.

“We are starting a Backyard Farming Program and there are 1,500 kits that will assist with that. Some have come in already; the remainder will be in by next week.

“It’s a beginners’ kit. It’s not intended to feed the whole family. We have stuff like beets, celery and the like, that is going to be a part of it (kit), initially. And, we hope this will be an impetus for persons to get in the business of farming in a serious fashion,” he added.

Cornish promised the ministry will provide support. 

“However, the material that is in there (the kit) will be helpful for them to set up properly … proper irrigation system, etc. We will give them some tips on how best to set up their garden area.”

In addition, there is a hydroponics, aquaponics effort that is scheduled to come on stream shortly. “We have started with two schools – Eight Mile Rock and Jack Hayward High – and so, those systems will be constructed very soon … the material is here.

“Once they are constructed, they will be operating, so that they can start their food production at the schools as a part of their agricultural program. We also intend to partner with other stakeholders with the other systems, as well as the public.

“We are not certain yet on the pricing (for the hydroponics, aquaponics kits), because it is going to be costlier than the backyard faming kits, which are $10. It won’t be $10 for the hydroponics, aquaponics kits. Obviously, that is a big-ticket item, so there will be select systems that are going to be positioned in different places with stakeholder partners,” Cornish explained.

He added that ministry officials are looking forward to the program in addition to some of the other initiatives that were started.

He hastened to assure: “Grand Bahama is not going to left behind.”

Noting that while the program is being carried out in other islands, Cornish said that this is a very good start for Grand Bahama. “It is going to get some people started and enhance what others are doing.”

With regards to the land-clearing program to assist farmers with property, Cornish said, that phase is virtually done. 

“It started in March. It’s about 90 percent done. We should have been complete, but what has impeded us is the rain.

“We love the rain, but the rain is not kind to us for tractor work and so, the tractors have not been able to complete the work in a timely fashion. We are up to the low 90s; some people are finished and, generally, the program is very successful.

“There were some concerns from the farmers about what is being provided. There is never ever going to be a case where everybody is happy. As you know, the soil is very limited in terms of depth and so, having the tractors come in to take out rocks, and, to turn that soil over, was a priority for us.

“Once that soil settles, then they will be able to have more space to plant and to get a possible crop started. So, that’s one of the challenges we’re faced with,” Cornish said.

He noted that there have been suggestions from some farmers on equipment that can be used to crush the rock and different avenues to enhance the soil and fertilizers.

However, he said that is also a high ticket item for a lot of people. 

“We are working on that and providing support for persons who are in need of fertilizer, as well as other crops and other seeds. So that’s something that we are going to continue to push, budget permitting at the end of the fiscal year. But in the new budget, there is going to be some new initiatives as well.

“So, this is really the end of the fiscal period 2019/2020 effort, and, going into 2020/2021 there are some other exciting ideas that the minister has put forward. With the government’s approval, there will be the concentration to enhance what we are able to produce through fishing and farming," he concluded.

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