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Bahamian Farming & Fishing - A Growing Industry



First Published: 1997-04-01

It is a well known fact that tourism is our number one industry and the financial services sector follows as the second highest contributor to our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Agriculture and Fisheries is the industry to which we hope to look for the diversification of the economy. In The Bahamas there are an estimated 1,700 farmers and some 8,835 fisherman. Agriculture and Fisheries accounts for 4% of the GDP and employs 5% of the total population. In order for the hopes for this industry to be realized, our immediate goal must be self-sufficiency, with greater expansion into the export market.

AGRICULTURE

Most Bahamian farms still consist of subsistence plots, although highly mechanized farms, especially citrus producers such as Bahamas Citrus Growers and Bahama Palm Groves in Abaco and Grand Bahama Farms, do exist and cater to the export market.

.......The majority of crops are grown for the local market. During 1993 the largest production of permanent and temporary crops yielded 29,508,892 pounds with citrus, bananas, tomatoes and cucumber being most abundant. A complete list of agricultural crops grown in The Bahamas include: citrus (oranges, sour oranges, grapefruit, limes, lemons and tangerines), tomatoes, bananas, cucumbers, coconuts, mangos, cabbage, onions, okras, sweet pepper, hot pepper, goat pepper, irish potato, thyme, pumpkin, pigeon peas, and watermelon. The islands producing the largest quantity of crops are Abaco, North Andros, Cat Island, Eleuthera, Exuma and Grand Bahama. There is also production to a lesser extent in Long Island.

......The Department of Agriculture is involved in implementing a number of special crops. In Abaco attention is being given to growing grapes and papaya. It is anticipated that the grapes will be on the market this year. A banana improvement program is currently in progress in Long Island and Eleuthera. A plan to improve pineapple production is slated for this summer. Pineapple seedlings are currently being generated for this project. The Department of Agriculture is also working with the Department of Cooperative Development to revitalize corn grits production in Cat Island.

FISHERIES

During the years 1991 to 1995, owners and operators of fishing vessels earned an average of $59.8 million annually while landing an average of 9.5 million pounds of fishery products in the same period. Crawfish is the most important resource. There are 20 other species of edible fish available in our waters including grouper, jacks, snappers, yellowfin rockfish, margatefish, grunts, goggle-eyes, wahoo, dolphin fish (mahi-mahi), bonefish, muttonfish, schoolmaster, barracuda and the list goes on. Other fishery products include conch, stone crab, blue crabs, loggerhead and green turtles, and sponges. Nassau and New Providence yields the most product with significant catches in Abaco, Grand Bahama, Spanish Wells and other northerly and central islands. There are 45,000 square miles of commercial fishing waters, primarily the Grand Bahama Bank and the Little Bahama Bank.

.......Approximately 4,050 vessels are employed in the fishing industry and in addition to the 8,835 fishermen there are more than 450 workers employed in areas of processing or purchasing. Most fishermen come from Abaco, North Eleuthera, Grand Bahama, New Providence and Long Island. The bulk of crawfish landings are exported.

LIVESTOCK

Meat production is another concern for the Department of Agriculture. Livestock farming in The Bahamas includes production of chickens, pork and mutton. The Swine Breeding Centre which opened last year on Gladstone Road is an effort to make pig farming far more profitable. The centre is a joint venture between the Bahamas government and that of Republic of China through the Taiwan Republic of China Embassy. The facility breeds sows which can be purchased to upgrade a farmers stock. Dorothy Burrows, who has been in the pig farming business since 1963, says that "now it is easier to get boars to upgrade the stock and it is easier to get information" from the breeding centre.

INCENTIVES

The Swine Breeding Centre is just one example of the attention that is being given to the industry of agriculture and fisheries. In the belief that the industry has multi-million dollar potential and attractive job possibilities, the government provides extensive incentives to farmers and fishermen. Some of the most outstanding are 1) duty-free concessions and exemptions on some imported goods 2) restrictions on imported agricultural produce which were enforced by bans on imported bananas and chicken and meat import licenses made mandatory for persons importing over 20 lbs. of fresh pork, mutton and chicken parts. 3) Fisheries sector loans available through The Bahamas Development Bank (BDB) 4) Fisheries training programmes 5) Assistance from the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC) for small entrepreneurs in agriculture, fisheries and manufacturing 6) Technical assistance through the Dept. of Fisheries, BAIC, BDB and other agencies with an interest in the development of the fishing sector 7) The Minister of Agriculture Act which allowed the Minister of Agriculture to grant conveyances to lease a total of 65,887.49 acres of Crown Land to Bahamians for farming purposes. These plans and many more give aid to those established in agriculture and fisheries and encourage investment in these areas.

LINKAGES WITH TOURISM

Over the past few years more attention has been given to linkages between agriculture and fisheries and tourism. Today more hotels and tourist restaurants feature Bahamian products and recipes than ever before. Purchasing manager at Radisson Cable Beach, Bernard Ferguson reports that his resort spends about $250,000 buying produce and seafood from Bahamian farmers, fishermen and vendors. Ferguson says he purchases tomatoes, lettuce, native pork and the resort's entire supply of seafood at home.

Additionally, The Real Taste of The Bahamas program and the Great Bahamas Seafood Festival which are carried out by both the Ministries of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Tourism, expose Bahamian produce and seafood to the more than 3 million tourists who visit our islands every year. The Real Taste programme ensures that all participating restaurants use Bahamian products whenever possible. The Seafood Festival offers all types of Bahamian food—conch fritters, grouper fingers, roasted conch, fried plantain, to name a few to our tourists. The Culinary Competition, a big part of the Festival, goes a step further by encouraging local chefs to create gourmet masterpieces using Bahamian goods. Items incorporated in winning recipes have included whelks, sea grapes, cassava, coconut and tamarinds.

It is evident that our first and most immediate endeavor is to supply the domestic market. The second objective is to supply the tourist market. The final goal is to have a very lucrative export market. Currently fisheries is the closest to meeting the mark with fisheries' exports largely outnumbering its imports. In 1992 The Bahamas imported under $6 million worth of seafood and marine products yet we exported over $56 million worth of similar product. The value of exports continued to increase totaling $63 million in 1994. Chicken suppliers such as Gladstone Farms in Nassau, Abaco Big Bird in Abaco and Bahamas Poultry in Grand Bahama can meet the local demand as indicated by the ban on importing chicken which was carried out last year. Produce and other livestock still have a long way to `grow'.

Pierre Dupuch, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, says he is committed to making agriculture and fisheries a strong, thriving multi-million dollar industry in The Bahamas with vast employment opportunities. "Imagine how much more prosperous we will be when the millions of dollars that go abroad to put food on our tables stay right here in our own hands," urges Dupuch. That is an end that he, his ministry and many Bahamian farmers and fishermen are working hard to secure.

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