“The former government put it in their legislation [that] 40 percent of what the farmers can produce, the hotels, restaurants and food stores will purchase”
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Caron Shepherd, the aptly-named leader of the Bahamas Argo Entrepreneurs Group, a newly-formed association of local farmers, has made it her mission to sow the seeds of change for a more food-self-sufficient and nutrition-secure Bahamas.
In a recent interview with Eyewitness News, she revealed “we’re not as nutrition-secure as we should be”.
Referencing the COVID-19 pandemic, she stated: “COVID-19 has only illuminated what we as farmers knew all along — that we need to be able to provide fresh, nutritious food for our customer base.”
Shepherd, who sits at the helm of the organization as its president, formed the group as a joint effort with the Caribbean-Israeli Leadership Group.
She launched the group to support the interests of local farmers and lobby for more agricultural legislation in the country.
Since its creation, the group has grown from 150 to about 250 local farmers, some of them hailing from as far as Inagua in the south to Abaco in the north.
“One of the things we will need the government to assist us with is either increasing the tariffs on imports or putting a moratorium on imported items,” Shepherd told Eyewitness News.
“We have a lot of persons who are now producing organic eggs and chickens, so as a result of that, we sometimes have a surplus of eggs and a surplus of chickens.
“We would need a moratorium or a higher tariff on imported items that will allow the farmers to be able to sell their produce at a reasonable price.
“What’s happening is, you have people who are able to bring in items at a very reduced cost, and it’s not the quality that we want. We want to have the optimum quality.
“Another thing that we want to be able to negotiate with the government is the raw products that we’re having come in. If the government can waive the VAT (value-added tax) fees on our raw products, because we have a number of persons who bring in organic fertilizer to feed the crops that we’re growing, to be able to increase the nutritional value in the food.”
She made mention of the organization’s core mission to grow enough crops for local hotels, restaurants and grocery stores to purchase.
“We also want to look at being able to restore the sector to the point of being able to feed our nation, our hotels, our restaurants. We’re working aggressively in that direction,” Shepherd said.
“We have an importation amount of 2.6 million tomatoes that are imported per year. The former government put it in their legislation [that] 40 percent of what the farmers can produce, the hotels, restaurants and food stores will purchase.
“So, we’re looking at hitting that target. That’s our target goal — 1.2 million pounds of tomatoes that we need to grow as a nation and to be able to supply just that 40 percent of tomatoes that are coming in.
“The same thing with sweet potatoes. We import 1.1 million pounds of sweet potatoes, so we’re hitting our target goal of 400,000 pounds of sweet potatoes.
“Eggs, we bring in 4.7 million pounds of eggs.
“Now, we’re not hitting our two million pound quota as yet, but we’re working feverishly towards increasing our production in those items,” said the president of the Bahamas Argo Entrepreneurs Group.
Although the group has a way to go before it bears the fruits of its labor, it has already broken ground in the local community.
“The public has responded fairly well. They actually like the mere fact that they can purchase all-natural, organic fresh fruit and vegetables from local farmers markets,” she said, referencing a farmers market on Gladstone Road.
“We’ve had great reviews from our customer base, our home base and persons who have indicated that they find the taste is more prominent and also they find that it lasts much longer than the other items that they’d purchased from out of the food store.”
Written by Eyewitness News Intern Gabrielle Sterling