Agriculture in the Bahamas
Agricultural production in the Bahamas focuses on four main areas: crops, poultry, livestock, and dairy. Poultry, winter vegetables, and citrus fruits are the mainstay of the agricultural sector, which is concentrated in The Abacos. Exports consist mainly of grapefruits, limes, okra, papaya, pineapples, and avocado. These foods tend to grow quite well here (particularly the pineapples of Eleuthera which are fabulous!). Bananas, oranges, mangoes are also popular fruits. More than 5,000 acres of agricultural land in the Bahamas are used for citrus production. In 1993, about 14 million pounds of poultry meat was produced, valued at $15.3 million; egg production was estimated at 4.15 million dozen eggs, valued at $4.85 million; and agricultural exports were an estimated 18,794 tons. In addition to citrus fruits, exports included honeydew, cantaloupe, watermelon and squash.
Supposedly, to ‘encourage’ local agriculture (i.e. force consumers to buy local products against their will) heavy duties are laid on many imported goods that compete with inefficient, low quality, over-priced local products, or cheaper foreign goods are banned.
The Agricultural Manufactories Act of 1965 provides exemptions from customs duty on all machinery and material imported for the construction and improvement of agricultural factories. Tax-exemptions (as long as there are no strings attached) are a good thing and should be done for all business machinery, in all industries—not just politically popular ones.
Ninety percent of the agricultural land in The Bahamas is government-owned and falls under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries. The government has instituted a policy to utilize these lands to aid in the growth of the economy and foster less dependence on the tourism sector. The Ministry of Agriculture (Incorporation) Act of 1993 gives the Minister of Agriculture authority to hold, lease, and dispose of agricultural land, to enter into contracts, and to sue and be sued. The Minister does not have the power to sell agricultural land, but is authorized to lease land for periods up to two consecutive 21-year periods. Under this policy, the government has earmarked 36,148 prime acres of Crown Land for agricultural use, which is allocated as follows: 13,869 acres in Andros 11,737 acres in The Abacos 10,542 acres in Grand Bahama Island.
The Department of Agriculture is encouraging farmers to expand sweet potatoes, bananas, onion, Irish potatoes, and pigeon peas acreage through taking money from taxpayers and “subsidizing” these businesses (rather then let taxpayers spend the money on their own businesses) via cheap loans, etc.
The stated goal of livestock is to make each island self-sufficient in poultry and pork production. However, this drive for ‘self-sufficiency’ is not without its price—it results in more expensive products (since it costs more to grow locally then to import such products) and leads to an actual decrease in wealth, as capital resources are driven towards uneconomic uses, which would not be invested in without government coercion and handouts, i.e., it makes sense to import a banana for five cents a pound, then to grow it locally for a fifty cents a pound. If free-trade were the Bahamian policy, Bahamians would get five times as much wealth (i.e., bananas) per dollar, then they would then being forced to ‘buy locally’.
A 1994 Census on Agriculture indicated that there are 1,800 farms in The Bahamas, including:
- Bahama Palm Groves — leases 1,200 acres of land on an old Abaco sugar estate.
- R.A. Hewitt & Sons of Ontario, Canada — grows citrus fruits (limes, tangelos, grapefruits, oranges and lemons) on 500 acres.
- The Abaco Cooperative Society — allocated 1,000 acres for its members; each uses 25 acres.
- Bahama Star — runs a 3,000+-acre citrus orchard in Abaco.
- Bahamas Poultry Ltd in Grand Bahama Island, has 30 growing houses with capacities ranging up to 30,000 birds per house.
- Bahamas Citrus Growers — exports 95% of their product to the US, Canada, Europe and the Far East. The company has 2,000 acres of mature citrus orchard.
- Brookwood Farms Ltd. — has developed more than 1,000 acres of orchard on Grand Bahama Island, producing mainly Persian limes and avocados for export to Europe, Canada and the US. They exported 1,674 tons of produce in 1993.
- Kendall Foods — operates papaya orchards on the island of Eleuthera.
Government policy is to encourage farmers in the northern Bahamas, especially The Abacos, Grand Bahama Island and northern Andros, to market their own products. Farms in these areas now represent more than two-thirds of all produce sold. In the south, where there is less rainfall, low population, poorer soil and underdeveloped infrastructure, farmers benefit from more Government support.
A Disease Insect Surveillance Unit monitors the importation of fruit and vegetables into The Bahamas. All commercial importers of fresh produce, ornamentals, meat, milk, eggs, and poultry must obtain permission from that Department prior to importation. The fee is $2 per permit.
Areas of Responsibility for Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources
1) Department of Agriculture Agriculture: Food Production, Agricultural Marketing, Development of Demonstration & Training Farm, Horticulture, Botanical Gardens, Quality Control of Food and Beverages, Potters Cay Dock, Protection of Plants, Veterinary Services and Animal Diseases, Public Markets, Slaughter Houses, Agricultural Land
2) Department of Marine Resources: Fisheries, Natural History Specimens, Marine Conservation and Protection, Reefs and Blue Holes
3) Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Industry