The coronavirus (COVID-19) has officially hit The Bahamas and the world is in a state of panic. The virus has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. As a nation, we depend heavily on imports. We depend on the planes and ships to bring us food. Most families, if they are lucky, have about two to five days’ worth of food to sustain them. We have seen the panic in the U.S., as shoppers line up outside supermarkets, anxiously waiting to stockpile groceries.
If COVID-19 continues its deadly path, I fear how long it would be before our shelves go empty. It’s a frightening thing to imagine, but based on what is already occurring locally and globally, it is far from far-fetched. Unfortunately, we have only ourselves to blame for not becoming more self-sufficient. And now, the chickens have come to roost! Our poultry farms have dwindled. Pig farming, sheep farming and goat rearing are almost non-existent.
It is unbelievable that after 46 years of being independent, we still haven’t figured out how to feed ourselves. Other Caribbean nations like St. Vincent & the Grenadines, have mills to produce their own flour and grain. Yet, in a nation that boasts of receiving over seven million annual visitors, we can’t do the same. Relying on the ships to deliver OK Flour is — contrary to popular belief — not OK.
We are more concerned about being blacklisted than knowing how to feed ourselves and I don’t understand why. I don’t understand how successive governments failed us repeatedly in this area. Growing our own food must be a priority. We have the land. We may not have the best soil, but for heaven’s sake, if Israel can grow food in the desert, surely we can do the same with the soil we have. Technology has also advanced so significantly that in some cases, soil is not even necessary to grow vegetables.
For all the talk about commission of inquiries we’ve had throughout our nation’s history, the Bahamian people need to put these lawmakers on trial for not having a domestic solution to this problem after 46 years. Why are we importing cassava from South America when we can grow it here? Why are we importing grits? Our grandparents didn’t import grits; the corn was ground and grits was produced right in this country.
Bahamas, we are spoiled. We have been dependent on foreign imports for far too long. I will start my backyard farming this weekend and I encourage all of you, my good friends, to do the same.
It’s time we take agriculture more seriously. We must have a national plan to feed our citizens. I am sick and tired of the rhetoric and the excuses as to why we can’t. This is a national crisis. We have the land. We just need the determination and the tenacity to see this through.
• William Wong is a two-term president of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation, two-term president of the Bahamas Real Estate Association and a partner at Darville-Wong Realty. E-mail: [email protected].