Minister of Agriculture, Marine Resources and Family Island Affairs Clay Sweeting explained yesterday that Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Chester Cooper’s invitation to Chinese investors to participate in the agriculture sector was likely not about actually farming the land, but about sharing expertise and innovative farming methods with the Bahamian people.
Cooper’s remarks during a virtual investment forum with potential Chinese investors began to draw some ire after being published in the media. Suggestions in the past about including the Chinese in the country’s production of food have proved controversial.
But Sweeting, speaking to Guardian Business outside of Cabinet, said the Chinese could be invited to share techniques with Bahamian farmers, as has been talked about for a number of years.
“The DPM was just speaking in general about investment and we’ll look at opportunities for the Bahamian people,” said Sweeting.
“I don’t think the DPM was speaking about actual farming in this country, but speaking about actual expertise and ways they can assist us as Bahamians and Bahamian farmers to find innovative techniques, things of that sort.”
The Chinese government recently gifted 15 greenhouses to The Bahamas, which were accepted by Sweeting and will be distributed in Grand Bahama and throughout the Family Islands.
Sweeting said in a statement that the greenhouses will “play an instrumental role in finding new ways of farming, techniques and ideas to feed ourselves”.
“It is very important to myself and my ministry that agriculture becomes prominent in our country, where people feel that they can be business-oriented,” Sweeting said.
He mentioned in the statement that agriculture contributes only 0.8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and he vowed to work to improve that number.
Chinese Ambassador to The Bahamas Dai Qingli said during the greenhouse handover ceremony that Chinese investment in agriculture has proven to be commercially viable in other Caribbean countries.
“I very much support the minister’s objective to make agriculture more appealing to Bahamians and attract more investment into this vital sector,” Qingli said.
“Today’s donation of greenhouses is only a small beginning to what we hope to be a growing agricultural partnership between our countries. I’m glad that the minister has just expressed his commitment of working with us.
“It is now time to put our ideas into practice by working together on the ground and in the fields. I look forward to discussions with the minister to understand his priorities and to see how we can best work with him.”