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North Andros Institute Will Reduce Food Imports By 40 Per Cent

The Bahamas Agricultural and Marine Sciences Institute (BAMSI) projects reducing the amount of food imported into the country by 40 per cent, according to a top advisor to the government on the project.

Dr. Omer Thomas, an agricultural expert and special consultant to the government on BAMSI, said this reduction will come about within the third year of the institute’s opening.

BAMSI is set to open this fall.

”Our plan after the third year or maybe before the third year would be to produce over $210 million worth of food in import substitution,” Dr. Thomas said while appearing on Sunday’s Jones and Company. “And incrementally increasing that to where we can safely say we can replace up to 40 per cent of the imported food into this country.

“That projection is grounded in raw science, effort and will – the will on the part of all the players not to exclude the elected representatives.”

The agriculture sector in The Bahamas has deteriorated over the last three decades accounting for less than one per cent of GDP, some figures show.

In 1978, there were 80,000 acres of land area in production. By 1984 that number had dwindled to 50,000 acres and has fallen currently to around 10,000 acres in cultivation.

Dr. Thomas said the goal must now be empowering local producers by ensuring there is access to land, capital and the markets.
“If the government puts the measures in place to protect what we have or what we don’t have in anticipation of us providing what we should have and we don’t because there is no financial backing of the effort, the people will starve and no government is going to sit by and allow its people to starve when you can the food somewhere else,” he said. “So we would first have to get from the potential producers of food that when we take these measures, you would be able to correspondingly back up our effort by putting this is in the market.”

Despite The Bahamas expected to complete its accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) later this year and concern that local producers will not be able to compete with larger producers due to an elimination of tariffs and government subsidies, Dr. Thomas insists that there are still measures to be employed to give protection to local producers.

“You can reduce tariffs because tariffs in of themselves are not the most effective way to control imports,” Dr. Thomas said. “There are mechanisms and measures that can be employed to ensure that the local production takes pride of place on your shelves. These are not items that I would like to come here and talk about because these should never be publicly discussed, but yet there are measures that are used.”

Referring to his time as a papaya producer, Dr. Thomas said he often faced challenges exporting his product into the United States when there was high production of Hawaiian papayas making it into the mainland. Often he said, his products were rejected because they were heavily scrutinised for pesticides but when there was a shortage of Hawaiian papayas, he said, many of these restrictions placed on his supply were lifted.

He said this is a subliminal form of protectionism that the government should consider in order to protect local farmers.

Written by Jones Bahamas

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