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Cartwright: Food import bill has decreased

The country’s food import bill has decreased significantly from the$400-$500 million recorded in the 2008-2009 fiscal year, according to the Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Larry Cartwright.

Cartwright toldGuardian Businessyesterday that a number of factors contributed to the decline, including unemployment.

“There are so many other factors you have to look at,”Cartwright said.”The fact that there was a(higher level)of unemployment last year, the food bill will decline. But there are a lot of things to look at. Hopefully for 2011 we should get a truer figure of where we are in regards to imports.”

Cartwright’s comments came after the ministry hosted the 2011 Agribusiness Expo last week, which showcased various individuals in the industry from Nassau and the Family Islands. It also provided a networking opportunity for farmers in the industry, a key component for growth in the sector.

The agriculture minister added that the sector is making much-needed progress and more events like the Agribusiness Expo will encourage and foster growth.

“The expos demonstrate that more is being done,”he said.”We have a captive market here and last year we had over five million visitors. That’s five million mouths to feed. The more you can produce[is good because]you have the market[for it].

“Rather than importing food, we can grow it here.”

Cartwright said the export market has some potential and he hopes that it can grow over the next several years. He mentioned that grapefruit is the only export crop at the moment, and the country is trying to export raw onions into the Canadian market.

Other individuals tied to the sector have also identified the importance of reducing the food import bill, including President of the Bahamas Agricultural Producers Association Keith Campbell, who said in an earlier interview that more cooperatives need to be created to increase activity among farmers.

Director of Sustainable Development in the Ministry of Tourism Earlston McPhee said if the food import bill could be reduced by 20 percent, that would greatly impact the country’s economy and overall agricultural strength. According to him, previous studies have revealed that 90 cents of every dollar spent in the country by visitors goes right back out to purchase imports, which he considers”ridiculous.”

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