On June 1st, 2022 during his contribution to the 2022/2023 budget debate in the House of Assembly, Member of Parliament for Central and South Eleuthera, and Minister of Agriculture, Marine Resources and Family Island Affairs, Mr. Clay Sweeting detailed the activities and projects that would be taken on within his broad portfolio of responsibility during the next 12 months.
Housing developments and concessions:
In reference to Eleuthera, he began with an update on the visit made by the Ministry of Housing to the island in late 2021, saying, “In November of last year the Minister of Housing and Transport, along with representatives of the Bahamas Mortgage Corporation and a technical team came to Eleuthera to assess several areas for the possible expansion of the affordable homes program. I am pleased to say that before the end of June 2022, this month, the administrative team from the Ministry of Housing and the Mortgage Corporation and other partners will be in Central and South Eleuthera for the Mortgage Fair to assess potential homeowners and along with Minister Jo-Beth Coleby-Davis, we will break ground at the new affordable home subdivision at Ocean Hole in Rock Sound.”
He continued, “We must maintain a balanced approach to providing relief as far and as wide as we can. While we have a significant focus on agricultural lands and food security, the cries in the community of Hatchet Bay have been heard. Hatchet Bay has a peculiar issue of being landlocked. The growth of the community is stagnant because there is no available land for the expansion of the community. To this end, BAIC has agreed to transfer the ownership of 100 acres of agricultural land to the Ministry of Housing for the expansion of the community of Hatchet Bay. Initially, a housing subdivision will be developed and then lands available for commercial and residential development.”
He then added, “Not only is this administration focused on providing access to home ownership, but it is providing additional avenues for economic empowerment by expanding the amount of exemptions on new construction, renovations and even providing money back up to $40k in VAT payments. These measures established will promote home ownership, spark the construction industry, and provide flexibility for the pockets of homeowners. Another progressive strategy as laid out in ‘the Blueprint for Change’.”
New Land Leases:
Minister Sweeting commented during his contribution that BAIC had approved a number of new land leases in Eleuthera, including in the Hatchet Bay area, as well as touristic land leases in the Rainbow Bay area.
Touching briefly on upcoming investment projects in Eleuthera, Minister Sweeting informed, “South Eleuthera cannot begin to see an economic rebound if not for investments. I am pleased to say that in the past 8-month period, we have signed a Heads of Agreement with Cotton Bay and Windermere North Development should start soon. These two projects will create jobs in construction, provide avenues for entrepreneurial growth and inject direct capital in the surrounding communities.
Encouraging poultry production:
As part of the government’s push to achieve greater food security, poultry production is one of the areas they look to grow quickly in the short term, said Sweeting, “We are investing a considerable amount of funding in poultry production throughout the country. We believe that low hanging fruit such as poultry can provide an almost immediate catalyst to stimulate food production in the country. We have a plan, detailed in part in the budget, to attract the best technology and processes to develop a full scale poultry production operation. This includes a series of concessions that will be available. These concessions include land concessions (BAIC and the Ministry of Agriculture have thousands of acres for agricultural development) as well as electricity rate concessions to producers and direct cash subsidies, as found in this budget, for the support of poultry farmers and producers. A comprehensive concessionary framework will be outlined to ensure that we can attract the best prospects for success and reasonable timeframes for implementation.
“Realistically, the timeframe to grow this sector of the economy will take another 6 to 12 months to see it’s full potential realized. In the interim, the Prime Minister in his wisdom, has also provided for the reduction of duties on many food itemsincluding poultry and eggs. It is our sincere hope that these savings as outlined in the budget will be passed on to the consumers.”
Farming and fishing are also areas targeted for growth explained Minister Sweeting, “I recently had the opportunity to travel to Guyana, with the Minister of Tourism, Aviation and Investments to attend an Agri-Business Conference, and while at the conference Caricom stressed the 25 by 2025 initiative for each country is to reduce food imports by 25% by the year 2025. Currently, we in the Bahamas produce less than 6% of the poultry that we consume. We are lagging behind our Caribbean counterparts. We have been hindered by Dorian, The Pandemic and The War in Ukraine and Russia. In order to see these to fruition we need a targeted approach. The major contributors are the private sector, the financial lending institutions, the farmers, fishermen and
politicians (that’s us). We must work together to make this a reality.
“This goal is achievable. It is not so unrealistic and far-fetched that it cannot be accomplished almost immediately. We are laying the political, policy and financial groundwork, establishing the policies and making funding and concessions available to make this initiative achievable… We are seeking to reduce the proverbial
red tape associated with farming and funding. We are creating bankable products, that are at a minimal investment cost, driven by technology and accessible to young people and women. When I say bankable, I mean projects in agriculture that can be easily financed so farmers can have reasonable access to capital. These products include a significant investment in layers, and in containerized farms…
“In this budget, we are allocating five hundred thousand ($500,000.00) in direct support for farmers… There will be duty free exemptions for Farmers and Fishermen on equipment parts… This administration is committed to eliminating the cost of duty on all such parts for repairs, considering that Farmers and Fishermen already have duty free concessions for the upfront purchase of equipment and vehicles for their businesses this is an added bonus and real time savings to these hardworking men and women who will move the country forward.
Expansion of tractor services is also on the short term agenda, said Sweeting, “Plans are to extend the assistance of land preparation to farmers to three (3) additional Family Islands to include Eleuthera, Exuma and Cat Island. This technology will increase the use of machinery and technology in farming with the objective of increasing productivity meanwhile reducing the cost of production for farmers. This initiative includes the purchase of wheel tractors, Rome discs, ridging body, and bush hog mower. It represents an investment valued at approximately one million dollars.
Cultivation Center development:
In addition to heightening fresh produce production, allowing farmers the opportunity to process and package foods grown is another layer of industry that would add to greater food security, explained Minister Sweeting, “The Packing House in Hatchet Bay is repaired and re-opened for business. Further to reopening this establishment, my ministry is excited to announce that in the next few months a new building and multi-purpose center will be constructed at this site. ‘The Cultivation Center’, will be the center for all agricultural activities in Central and North Eleuthera. This Cultivation Center at Hatchet Bay will be a model one-stop-shop that will be duplicated in Family Islands where there is a considerable number of Agricultural & Fishing investments.
“My Ministry has revamped the initial concept of the AgroVillage and will now establish “The Cultivation Centre”, a facility which accommodates all things agriculture; be it proposals, training, programs, sales and more. This Centre is intended to promote greater interaction between our technocrats and farmers, be they hobbyist with the enthusiasm and interest to soar to a higher level in the agricultural sector, or the growing/established business in search of innovative applications to simply help them improve their product.
“We envision the Cultivation Centre to be a system of agricultural innovations that will be used to resolve the fundamental issues affecting food production. The Centre will be located at the Gladstone Road Agricultural Centre (GRAC). The project’s mission is to also facilitate the enabling environment for the modernization of the food and agriculture system in The Bahamas. As it relates to the construction of the Cultivation Centre my Ministry procured two (2) Butler Buildings for this project that will be piloted on the islands of New Providence and Eleuthera.
“Construction is well on the way with this project that is estimated to cost the Government into some two million, three hundred and ninety-eight thousand, eight hundred and thirty-one dollars and sixty-four cents ($2,398,831.64). Consultants are expected to be in the country in June 2022 for a scoping mission, where they will visit the islands of New Providence, Grand Bahama, Abaco and Eleuthera.
“These Cultivation Centers will be situated within reasonable distance from the major farming communities, and will each comprise a Produce Exchange, a Fish and Farm Store and a Food Processing Community Kitchen. Initially, three (3) Community Kitchens will be constructed on Andros, Cat Island and Eleuthera, outfitted with processing equipment and staffed to act as prototypes for the remaining communities.
“These Community Kitchens will stimulate and encourage the growth of entrepreneurship as they target women and young persons who are interested in creating their own small businesses.
“The kitchens will:
– Provide contracts to persons interested in co-packing;
– Provide fully equipped venues and technical assistance to entrepreneurs requiring a phase of their operation completed e.g. puree of fruits, extraction of oils, dehydration of fruits, vegetables, spices, sea-foods, etc.;
– Allow for various forms of packaging;
– Allow for farmers to mill corn and sieve to their preference of several degree of coarseness from fine corn meal to
coarse yellow grits.
“We will work assiduously to ensure construction of the first Community Kitchen before this calendar year ends. Processing of food products will commence immediately utilizing excess agricultural products from BAMSI and other associate farmers. During the first year, Community Kitchens will concentrate on improving their products; ensuring staff are properly trained in processing and use of equipment; on conducting consumer product testing at major food stores; and on supplying products for local food stores, hotels and eateries.
“During the second year of production, we hope to identify or select a product with export marketing potential; conduct trials, test markets and present recommendations for specific automated equipment for mass production.
“The benefits of investing into these Community Kitchens are enormous as they will support the growth of activities such as:
– Utilizing excess agricultural products that will minimize post-harvest losses allowing the farmer to increase his earnings.
– Contracting farmers to grow specific crops and ensure that certain processing varieties are made available for the major portion of the year.
– Adding value to products that are wholesome, healthy, tasty, interesting, and cost-effective.
– Creating businesses to support the work of the Community Kitchen such as gathering of indigenous crops e.g. shelling/freezing of tamarinds, collection/barking/preparation of coconuts and collection of indigenous berries e.g. sea grapes, guavas, plums and others.
– Developing programs to interest women and youths into establishing their own business.
– Encouraging the establishment and usage of by-products for the manufacturing of bags, soaps, skin creams, lotions,
– Decreasing the dependency on imports and encouraging product-substitution and the greater use of local manufactured products.
– Providing products for the National Food Bin. This is The Way Forward.”
Local Government Family Island Development Fund:
Updating on a number of changes in the function of Local Government, Minister Sweeting outlined, “Operational budget items that were removed from those Administrator’s Office Budgets have been partially returned already and will be returned fully in this upcoming 2022/2023 fiscal year.”
He continued, “10% of overall revenue collected in the Family Islands from property tax and road traffic fees will go to the creation of a Family Island Development Trust Fund in the amount of $200 million. This fund will facilitate the Government in making immediate and significant investment in Family Island infrastructure. This fund would be a sub-fund of the National Infrastructure Fund. We also propose to leverage the aviation-related revenue to create a fund for aviation infrastructure, which would be another sub-fund of the National Infrastructure Fund. This, combined with the Family Island Development Trust, will accelerate the reconstruction of Family Island airports. It will also end the practice of Family Island infrastructure improvements being made a lesser priority than infrastructure improvements in New Providence.
“It is important to note, however, that this does not mean that we will exclude Family Island projects from future capital budgets of the Ministry of Public Works. Far from it. It just means that the Family Islands will have their own dedicated fund to ensure that they keep pace with national development.
“Local Government is the driving force in Family Islands for capital development projects and improvements in infrastructure. Combined with the ability to generate revenue for their various districts and the impending amendments to the Local Government Act, things will get done in the family islands. This is the Way Forward.”
Local Govt Help Desk Structure:
To add to the functionality, and have a strategic approach to enhancing Local Government, several different teams and a help-desk structure has been devised, informed Minister Sweeting, “There is the potential for appeals as mandated in our Local Government Act. In order for an adequate response time, funding for travel to facilitate the same is also receiving adequate funding in this upcoming budget. The Department now has a Monitoring and Procurement Unit, a Legal and Protection Unit, along with a Help Desk. The Help Desk is designed to be headquartered in New Providence with five (5) new staff members. There will be sub offices in the Northern Bahamas (Grand Bahama), Central Bahamas (Eleuthera), and Southern Bahamas (Inagua) for an additional fifteen (15) new hires… What does a Help Desk do – They Help! All
functions through our partnership with other Ministries and Departments will be done. It is aimed at removing the bureaucratic red tape that now exists within the Family Islands.”