Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard has pledged that the government will do everything possible to prevent Abaco Big Bird Poultry Farm Ltd. from ending its production of chicken, meat and eggs.
Last week, Abaco Big Bird Operations Manager Lance Pinder said the farm was unsure if it would continue farming chickens after the vast majority of them died during Hurricane Dorian. Pinder also lamented that the government had not pledged any support to his farm to rebuild.
Pintard said he spoke with the farm’s owner on Friday and plans to visit the farm this week.
“I would find it quite shocking if they close. I spoke with the owner of the company this [Friday] morning and will meet with them next week when I go to Abaco. I don’t anticipate that they’ll close,” Pintard told Guardian Business in an interview.
“They are a big player in this market. Let me put it in context for you, all Bahamian poultry producers combined – both for meat as well as those who produce layers that produce eggs – they supply less than eight to ten percent of the market. This is a massive market. So, I don’t anticipate that they will close. We hope that they will not close. They have a wonderful product and they have a diversified operation because they also do avocados, citrus, eggs and meat as well.
“It is in our collective interest as a country that they succeed and we will do everything possible in terms of assisting them in getting back. Whether that is assisting them with land preparations, helping source some feed, helping to source chicks, all of those are things that we are actively pursuing.”
In a social media post last week, Abaco Big Bird lamented that it had only gotten a little assistance from the government in the form of “a token couple of bags of fertilizer”.
Pintard said the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources has provided as much resources as it has available to the farmers impacted by the hurricane, but he understands that to a large farm like Abaco Big Bird it may not seem like a lot.
“We have immediately started the distribution of Promix, feeds, trays, a variety of inputs that farmers would need, particularly those who have animals and their animals are in a desperate situation for feed. We’ve been distributing medicines because we’ve also worked with veterinarian associations internationally, wildlife agencies or NGOs that had an interest in making sure that the wildlife in particularly reserved areas are covered. So we’ve been providing a number of inputs already,” he said.
“Obviously if you’re running a multimillion-dollar operation, the inputs that we’re giving are primarily suited for small farmers and getting them back on their feet. But a big player, while that would begin to signal help is on the way, it doesn’t really fully address their situation.”
Pintard said he’s anticipating that once the government releases approximately $1.2 million it has allocated to the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources for Dorian relief, there would be more assistance for Abaco Big Bird as well as other large and small farms impacted by the storm.
“Cabinet has approved funds that are to be divided between ministries as a part of its hurricane response initiatives. Agriculture is in the process of accessing those funds and we have worked out a formula so that we can help registered and unregistered farmers with a package. The package will be inadequate for a big player, but it will contribute to their efforts to get back to normalcy and that will be basically providing some funding to them. On the low end it will be a thousand dollars for the small farmer and it will be more, because we’ve created categories, for different sized farmers,” he said.
“Some persons who have livestock and some of their livestock has survived, they need encasements in order to protect the animals. There will be some movement on that this coming week. We have commitments for quite a bit of livestock – small sheep, goats, hogs, etc. – that we will give to farmers who are in that sector. We are also looking for chicks, so that in the case of a Big Bird that has lost 60,000, a portion of that we might be able to get some of our international partners to assist with in trying to get them back on track. One of their biggest costs is going to be feed, so we are diligently trying to attract feed for poultry producers, small ruminant farmers, etc., so we are working on that.”
Pintard said the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) has already contributed $75,000 to the sector, which includes farming material and feed provided during rapid response help immediately after the storm.
He said the organization has also pledged additional funding.
“The government would have put more than $8 million in a fund to fund business development, which will include loans at concessionary rates and of course there will be some grants. So these companies, we will be pushing that they receive a combination of funding arrangements. In some cases we’ll be pursuing grants for them, in other cases we’ll be pursuing low interest loans so that they are able to rebound,” he said.
“One of the big agriculture companies has spoken to me, they themselves have identified a source of funding and they need endorsement from government to help build confidence in relation to that funding agency, and we are prepared to give them a letter as well as to attend meetings with them in order to assist them in securing the funding that is being offered to them.
“We are going to be quite diligent in assisting entrepreneurs who have survived despite the low subsidy package that exists in The Bahamas. The Bahamas subsidy package is unacceptably low in my estimation, so we are seeking to increase what we do for our farmers and we do have room to do that. And I believe with the relationships that we have been building overseas, we now will have the means to increase the subsidy.”