Thirteen schools in the Over-the-Hill community will roll out a “backyard gardening” program as part of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the government of The Bahamas and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), officials announced during a press conference yesterday.
The program is part of government’s Over-the-Hill initiative which was introduced to rejuvenate communities in those areas, and is a collaborative effort involving the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources and Ministry of Education.
On hand during the conference were Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard, Minister of Education Jeffrey Lloyd and Bains and Grants Town MP Travis Robinson, who spoke on behalf of the prime minister.
The ministers all touted the potential economic benefit of the program, as Pintard and Lloyd highlighted that the country could save money by growing instead of importing food; and Robinson pointed out that families in Over-the-Hill communities could both earn extra income by selling produce they grow and also save on grocery bills by growing their own produce instead of buying.
“A recent study released by the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) commissioned by our ministry found that over the last 10 years the agriculture sector has been contracting…in some cases as much as by seven percent, while the demand for food has increased often at the same rate or greater,” Pintard said.
“…A part of our strategy in addressing this critical issue in the country is ensuring that Bahamians are able to produce much of what we import, through what we call the ‘Import Substitution Strategy.’”
He added, “Minister Lloyd is committed to working in conjunction with CARDI, of course, and with the Ministry of Agriculture in inspiring our young people to produce much of what we consume, and so we are happy to be working with this initiative.”
Lloyd added, “We are, of course, very anxious to get started with this because…when you’re spending close to a billion dollars on imports into this country, when we see in area such as for instance pork production, you know $40 to $50 million could be saved on an annual basis, not to mention things like vegetables and fruits as well as poultry.
“I think that the opportunities are just enormous. Of course we have to do a much better job inviting our students to see agriculture as a viable discipline and career, and the way we can do that is what we are doing here right now.”
But Lloyd also said the program is “absolutely critical” in order to reduce the instance of noncommunicable diseases in the country.
“Sometime around 2005, ladies and gentlemen, the ministers of health of this region met in Trinidad and it was there that it was determined that if we did not get a handle on noncommunicable diseases that we would probably be breaking the bank in 20 years.
“Well, we are coming very close to that, and as you can see this is why it is so propitious that a program of this nature…is so critical and vital and we are very happy to be a part of it.”
The program will focus on expanding aquaponics systems – which have already been rolled out in a few schools in the country; and introducing hydroponic systems, both of which are advanced agriculture technologies, according to Pintard.
He said his ministry is “appealing to the corporate community to partner with us because we believe the schools would be at the epicenter of supplying communal farms and backyard farms surrounding these school initiatives”.