Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard said he has received the support of Cabinet for a policy that mandates, under a heads of agreement, that 40 percent of food items purchased by hotels and restaurants be locally produced.
Pintard said his ministry has been focused in recent months on guaranteeing a market for increased agribusiness by meeting regularly with hoteliers, restauranteurs and food store owners to determine the assurances needed for them to support more local farmers.
“In order for us to guarantee a market (for agribusiness), we’re having conversations with the people that matter,” he said.
“And as a policy decision, I asked Cabinet, can we mandate that 40 percent of all foods purchased by hotels and restaurants, and it goes into the heads of agreement, must be purchased locally? And Cabinet agreed.
“We are in the process of establishing a monitoring unit to supplement the work that is already being done by the department of agriculture that sometimes restricts imports.
“What we are seeking to do in a very coordinated way, not confrontational but working in tandem with companies source these material, is to say your first 40 percent coming from Bahamians. And if we have the capacity and self-sufficiency in that area, we expect that you will buy all of it locally.”
Pintard said the biggest concern was predictability of the cost and sustainability of the amount of food produced.
“We’ve been having meetings with hoteliers, with food stores in particular and raising the question with them. What are the impediments, what are the things that are preventing you from buying local? And we have gotten comments. What is interesting is they have not commented on the quality,” he said.
“So, those agencies that have bought from Bahamian producers, they are pleased by and large by the quality. What concerns them is the variability in price from months-to-month or quarter-to-quarter or year-to-year. Secondly, they are concerned about consistency of supply and then they are concerned about sustainability.”
The overarching goal, Pintard said, is to have a successful environment of import substitution.
“A study conducted by the IDB says that there are at least 77 items that we can produce cost effectively, so that they can be competitive with what is coming in,” he said.
“We can prioritize that based on the figures that we’re spending bringing those items in. While we are interested in exports because exports allow you to bring foreign currency onshore and assist you with your national development, the truth is the tourists that are in town represent an export.
“So, we want to look at import substitution. What can I produce that I no longer have to spend money elsewhere to bring in? So, we’ve been looking at those 77 items. We’ve been making them available to potential agribusiness investors and saying to them, ‘Here are some real options for you if you’re considering the sector. Here’s the dollar value, not only in the broad sector, but in the subsector that you have the potential to make.’
“If you’re going to have import substitution, you’re going to need a guaranteed market. In other words, your hoteliers, your restaurants, your food stores must have sufficient confidence in the producers in order to spend their money with them.”
Last month, Pintard said the government plans to undertake an aggressive campaign to create legislation and policy to expand the development of the blue economy, especially aquaculture.
Pintard also said earlier this year that a plan to reduce the country’s reliance on food imports would cost only $1.6 million, which would be used to assist farmers on Abaco and Grand Bahama first, before farmers in other parts of the nation.