Govt holds town hall meeting with farmers to address concerns; BAMSI looking to set up local base
Barefoot Creek Ranch says operations way down over the past 12 years
LONG ISLAND, BAHAMAS — The Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) is expected to open a new satellite office on Long Island as it seeks to reinvigorate the livestock and farming industry on the island.
The decision comes as the government moves to ensure food security across The Bahamas over the next few years and limit imports on food supplies.
However, farming on Long Island, once known as the “livestock capital” of the country, has only just started to pick up again nearly seven years since the island was battered by Hurricane Joaquin.
A delegation from the Ministry of Agriculture, BAMSI, the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC) and the Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC) traveled to the island over the weekend to assess issues on the ground, including the ongoing potable water project.
BAMSI’s idea [is] to help these farmers is to bring them up to a commercial stage and also to provide an abattoir service where they can actually sell these to an open commercial market.
– BAMSI Executive Chairman Tyrel Young
Dozens of Long Island residents gathered on Saturday for a town hall meeting at NGM Major High School to voice their concerns regarding several matters, such as access to the necessary equipment from the island’s packing house to maintain farms; proper feed to care for livestock; quality control of produce; tax concessions for farming equipment; and access to Crown land and financial support from the government.
Santina Chea, the officer in charge of the Clarence Town Packing House, told Eyewitness News that the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded those issues, with farmers in need of a fish and farm store to access supplies.
She noted that while younger people are getting back into the industry, there remains serious disinterest due to the increasing challenges.
Bernard Knowles, owner of Barefoot Creek Ranch in Clarence Town, said last month was the first time the farm sold livestock to the public in nearly 12 years.
Knowles said with just over 100 animals currently on the farm, including sheep, goats, chickens, ducks and wild hogs; and some crops, including banana, papaya, coconut and broccoli, this is the smallest his farm has been in several years.
We have to start back up and basically start over from scratch.
– Bernard Knowles, Barefoot Creek Ranch
He explained that his farm suffered significant losses over the years as a result of continuous hurricanes that ravaged the island.
“Three different hurricanes we lost stuff in, but we keep bouncing back,” Knowles said.
Knowles said he lost 900 animals and nearly $400,000 in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Noel in 2007.
He said he then imported nearly 400 animals from the United States to try to restart his farm.
But the island received double hits from Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Hurricane Joaquin in 2015.
“After Joaquin, we were left with three sheep and three goats and then we started back over,” Knowles said.
He said even now they are trying to reclaim their glory days by slowly rebuilding inventory numbers, though buying livestock is not as easy anymore and he has since had to get some of his animals from BAMSI.
“We have to start back up and basically start over from scratch,” Knowles said.
The lifelong farmer added that for farming on the island to return to a semblance of what it once was, “You need money and you need people who are interested in doing it.”
He said the government should hire local consultants to oversee the industry and ensure Bahamians are able to benefit in the future.
Knowles added that he hopes that by the end of 2022, he will have more than 200 animals on his farm.
The way forward
In an exclusive interview with Eyewitness News, BAMSI Executive Chairman Tyrel Young outlined several initiatives the Ministry of Agriculture hopes to roll out in the coming months.
Young explained that one of the purposes of the visit to the island was to scout out an office space for the institute, which would give farmers direct access to the ministry and its agency and establish proper procedures to facilitate their needs on a daily basis.
He acknowledged the myriad issues being faced by farmers and sought to assure that these will be addressed.
We have to grow this industry here and support these farmers.
– BAMSI Executive Chairman Tyrel Young
“BAMSI’s idea [is] to help these farmers is to bring them up to a commercial stage and also to provide an abattoir service where they can actually sell these to an open commercial market,” Young said.
He added: “We have to grow this industry here and support these farmers.”
Additionally, Young said the government hopes to focus on chickens and eggs to limit importation of eggs into the country.
“In the next two years, we want to bring The Bahamas to a level where we are providing the Bahamian [public] with 100 percent organic Bahamian-grown eggs”.
The country’s feed mill, which falls under the BAIC’s purview, is expected to revamp its program to have better feed supply at packing houses throughout the entire Bahamas.
BAIC Executive Chairman Leroy Major assured farmers that they will see swift movement on their concerns regarding the need for feed and a working tractor on the island.
“It is our vision [that] on every island that we have a packing house, we will put a fish and farm store,” he said.
Among several of the other initiatives announced at the town hall were a possible annual wild hog hunt that could also be advertised as a tourism event; turn-key aquaponic greenhouses for farmers; as well as a nationwide plan for island-specific crops to introduce to the market for food security.