Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard said that come January the ministry will be moving on a number of projects on Grand Bahama and Abaco in an effort to help those economies recover from the effects of Hurricane Dorian.
In the weeks after the catastrophic storm devastated those islands, Pintard estimated that damage to the fisheries and agriculture industries was in excess of $80 million.
Although he said progress is “painfully slower than some of us would like”, he expressed optimism about going forward.
“January will be an extremely busy month for us on the agriculture side,” he told The Nassau Guardian yesterday.
“The Department of Agriculture has been partnering with IICA (Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture), that is the agriculture arm of the Organization of American States (OAS)…and with the Food and Culture Organization (FAO) as well as CARDI (Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute) in completing an in-depth assessment of the sector.
“Secondly, we’ve already been distributing various inputs to farmers to try and help some of those farmers to get back to cultivation or servicing what is remaining of their livestock as quickly as possible.”
He added, “Funds have already been allocated by Cabinet to assist the sector as well as funds have been pledged by IICA out of Costa Rica in order to assist farmers and we are in the process of dispensing that assistance to farmers in both islands.”
Pintard further noted that the ministry is “working with several farmers” who are seeking Crown land grants to revive their businesses, including a Cabinet paper being prepared “to assist the largest poultry producer in the country in terms of securing requisite land”.
“Inputs for farmers, that’s ongoing in terms of making items available to farmers who need it. In terms of the additional funding with respect to agriculture, in January that process we expect to kick in,” he said.
Pintard also said: “On the fisheries side, we started several weeks ago benefitting from the group out of Florida in donating three vessels to three Bahamian fishers. We also have a group, GlobalMedic is on the ground as we speak working with fishers in Grand Bahama. They have set up a boat repair facility in East Grand Bahama where several Bahamians are employed, assisting fishers in repairing their boats.
“We have a similar program that will be set up by Bahamas government in conjunction with the food and agriculture organization, so we’ve received approval for funding for that to happen. So, we’re working on multiple tracks with fishers in terms of trying to help them replace gear, equipment, inclusive of small vessels.”
He added, “We are specially focused now on setting up aquaponics operations in multiple schools throughout the country but in particular in Grand Bahama and Abaco. Because we believe aquaponics holds huge potential for production of a number of agriculture products as well as protein – in this case we are utilizing the tilapia.”
Pintard noted that the aquaponics school program on Abaco is “the greatest challenge” as many schools have still not been repaired since being destroyed by the powerful storm; however, he said that “Grand Bahama is pretty much ready to go” and that it is another project the ministry intends to get started on in January.
“So, progress is being made,” he said. “It is painfully slower than some of us would like but, nevertheless, we are moving forward.”
Earlier this month, during a vote of confidence in Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis in the House of Assembly, Pintard said he feels the government is on the right track but urged “a greater sense of urgency” and highlighted slow assistance for storm victims as one of his points.