“We are currently crafting solutions that are sustainable and will feed The Bahamas for the next 50 years,” said Min. Sweeting

Minister Clay Sweeting

The Bahamas Youth Climate Conference was held at the Performing Arts Centre of the University of The Bahamas, July 13, 2023 under the theme, ‘Fighting for the Future: How will we feed The Bahamas for the Next 50  Years.’  Minister of Agriculture, Marine Resources and Family Island Affairs, the Hon. Clay Sweeting addressed the conference and told the youth that climate change has pivotal influence on the achievement of vital food security.”As we look towards the future of The Bahamas, one of the most important  considerations is how we will feed ourselves now and in the future. With a  growing population and changing climate conditions, food security is more  important than ever,” he said. “As many of us know, agriculture is one of the oldest practices that propelled  civilization. Over time, agriculture has evolved and will continue to do so over the next 50 years. I may not have a crystal ball, but I see agriculture playing a larger role in our country’s prosperity. 

However, it would be unwise to deny that our farmers face immense challenges – the most urgent one being climate change.”He said climate change has brought on several difficulties including increasing the scarcity of resources and increasing vulnterability of food production.”We have seen what natural calamities have done to our landscapes. Thanks to our Prime Minister spreading the message, the world now knows that The Bahamas is not contributing to climate change – it is  a victim of it. Yes, it is a major issue. There’s no denying that. But fortunately,  there are specific strategies that we are employing to ensure that our people still have access to nutritious and affordable food,” said Minister Sweeting. 

He said that the government has made food security a priority and will seek to embrace new strategies such as vertical and horizontal farming and even more innovative agri-technologies that will emerge over the next 50 years. He noted that ‘energized’ young people are continuing to revolutionize the agriculture sector through new technologies and  approaches to solve ancient problems.  Some of these new innovations include: precision farming and aquaponics. He explained that precision farming uses technologies like GPS, sensors and data analytics to optimize crop production. He pointed out that the government is also focused on promoting the evolution of a National Seed Bank to ensure the country is able to efficiently recover from natural disasters, or further degradation as a result of climate change. Some  farmers, he said, are already exploring the possibilities of aquaponics —  which is fish farming with hydroponics.

“The system is a closed loop one that is highly efficient and environmentally friendly. Fish are raised in tanks and the water from the tanks is used to fertilize plants grown through a soilless medium,” he said.He told them that the Ministry of Agriculture intends to install two innovative ‘vertical farms’ — one in  Eleuthera and the other in Abaco. It is anticipated that these two farms will serve as models for what can be achieved in farming where there is limited access to water – especially applicable to the Family Islands.”We are hoping that cutting edge methods such as these will attract more young people to agriculture, demonstrating that farming can be accomplished in a more sustainable manner placing less burden on our soils and land availability while simultaneously proving that farming can be profitable.”In the meantime, we are completing the Cultivation Centre in New Providence at the Gladstone Road Agriculture Centre. We expect that the center will be a nucleus for food  production featuring food kitchens, a produce exchange, and will be a general resource for food production in The Bahamas.  Another Cultivation Centre is earmarked for Eleuthera but will also be replicated on other islands as well.  Make no mistake, as the leaders of tomorrow, young people are and will continue to  shape our Agriculture sector for the next 50 years.”

The government, he said, is investing heavily in the youth of the country. “This government  through the Sustainable Food Growth Grant offered through the Access Accelerator Small Business Development Center has invested in innovation and young persons to help fast-track agricultural and food production projects. We  expect that this summer we will be able to fund more grants. Additionally, this Ministry is partnering with the Ministry of Education to implement a focused approach to Agricultural Science within Junior and Senior High Schools. We are  continuing to invest in Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) to adequately prepare our youth to take the helm of Food Production and we are continuing to build capacity with our regional and international partners to  provide shared finances, and solutions to our issues.”Mr. Sweeting said that with knowledge being a catalyst for change, the role that BAMSI plays is a critical one. “The institute exists to prioritize research and development of new technologies and techniques that can help us increase our crop yields. Through  BAMSI, we are seeking to create a more resilient and productive agricultural  sector that supports local farmers and businesses,” he said. “BAMSI is already diligently working towards this goal with the establishment of its Egg-Academy, which will  be able to demonstrate methods of poultry farming. Soon it will introduce a new  piggery and it is also introducing its Greenhouse Project that will be duplicated on several islands in The Bahamas.

The project will assist farmers in learning to grow bankable products such as leafy greens and other important vegetables that can turn over a sizable return on investments. BAMSI continues to attract and empower young people with brilliant ideas.”He said that as many young people continue to graduate from BAMSI with new skill sets, the next  generation will see a lot of promising agricultural entrepreneurs.  He also spoke of the strides being taken at the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC). “Meanwhile, the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC) is installing a brand-new Feed Mill, which has not been done in 40 years. This Feed Mill will complement the Golden Yolk programme aimed at making The  Bahamas self-sufficient in eggs. The government has invested over $15 million in the project that will provide jobs to farmers who are interested in poultry farming.  This programme provides immense potential to help grow our economy and place a dent in our expensive food import bill that continues to hover at $1 billion. I want to see that number dip in my tenure and in my lifetime.”In conclusion, he said the government has to continue its work to strengthen the agriculture sector and now is the time to do it.  

 “The time is not the future, but now. We have the power to create a thriving agriculture sector. We just have to work relentlessly to grow what we eat and eat what we grow. We are yielding some impressive progress, but we still have a  long way to go. There are still hurdles to overcome or as your theme dictates – ‘a  fight for the future.’  But I believe that we are currently crafting solutions that are  sustainable and will feed The Bahamas for the next 50 years.”

By: BETTY VEDRINE/Bahamas Information Services