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Delegation urges farmers to diversify

More than 15 buyers from major wholesalers, shops and supermarkets flew out to Andros last weekend, meeting the farmers that produce local food and telling them exactly what they require to boost the country’s agricultural sector.

The delegation, organized by the Bahamas Agriculture & Industrial Corporation (BAIC), featured a strong culinary component to encourage hoteliers to add more Bahamian-grown foods to menus.

Amanda Wells, an agricultural officer with BAIC, said the reception by farmers was “excellent”.

“We took them on a tour and they visited our greenhouses on Andros,” he explained. “We have a pilot program over there as part of BAIC. We also got them to see what was in the fields, and later on there was a meeting held between farmers and buyers.”

In collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism and the Bahamas Hotel Association, the delegation included representation from Bahamas Food Services, Super Value, Bamboo Shack, SuperClubs Breezes and Cost Right.

Hotel managers, directors of businesses and even chefs all relayed a key message to farmers on Andros – diversify.

A problem under the current system, Wells said, is over-production of some crops, such as onions. The farmers were asked to branch out and gain experience with other crops, especially fruits and other vegetables.

“It’s so important for the farmers to hear it directly,” Wells told Guardian Business.

“They know the market is there from the buyer. Otherwise, they are scared to venture into other areas and they worry there is no market. But here you have chefs and major producers saying they want it. It should make a big difference.”

With the eagerness and energy level high, this delegation to Andros follows a conference last week whereby the BAIC laid out its drive to encourage more Bahamian grown food.

Edison Key, the executive chairman, said there has been a serious challenge marketing local farmers in the islands.

“They do provide quality products but wholesalers, retailers and consumers rarely knew what they had, when they had it and what was being forecasted in the farms,” he told the crowd.

He said the issue is not just bolstering and diversifying the economy, but also doing what we can to improve the country’s food security.

Wells felt that getting the hotels and culinary industry involved could open up more of a market and greater incentives for farms to achieve this goal. It will lead Bahamian companies to change their menus and change the way they purchase food.

Once you work closely with the buyers and make sure they stay on track, it’s just a matter of following up, she said.

That will be the next step, Wells explained, along with putting up banners in major supermarkets throughout New Providence to encourage Bahamians to buy local. In all, the campaign plans to capitalize on the momentum and the strength of its allies.

“It’s going in the right direction and we are seeing it growing,” she said.

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