by Rick Lowe
Here we go again, a new minister of agriculture is going to save the day and make The Bahamas self sufficient in food. Food security will be his first concern... Will the results Mr. Alfred Gray (PLP), recently inducted minister, promises be any different than those before him. In fact he was one of those ministers in a previous incarnation.
Several years back, Mr. Pierre Dupuch (FNM), as minister of agriculture, stopped food stores importing bananas to "help" Bahamian farmers. Well it inconvenienced food store shoppers as the farmers could not supply the product. But guess what? All one had to do was drive to Potter's Cay and the vendors continued importing foreign banana's for the convenience of their clients.
Of course the results were dismal and eventually the programme was abandoned.
In more recent years (2010), Mr. Larry Cartwright (FNM), as minister of Agriculture, devised a $42 million plan over five years to assist local farmers and stem the tide of food imports.
No results have been reported yet, and they may never be known, if history is a yard stick, but we can assume they've been no less dismal than banning banana imports.
In the seven years from 2005 through 2012, the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources and the Department of Agriculture combined have spent some $81 million, and what do we have to show for it?
Now Mr. Gray, is going to save the world, but if he was to look around New Providence he might enjoy the farmers market at Doongalik Studios on Village Road or once a month at the Bahamas National Trust. Good things are happening without government spending a dime of taxpayer funds.
In other words, the ingenuity of modern Bahamians is helping them create a market for their goods.
Instead of grandiose plans of food security that government promotes at the expense of everyone, for the direct benefit of a few, the private sector is developing this on its own.
Sure, the food stores might be able to have a specialty area for locally grown produce, poultry or meat, but it's a pipe dream to think we can be self sufficient in food at competitive prices. We simply do not have the capacity.
If there are farmers producing quality products all we need is a middle man or two to get the product to market. This way, we do not have to use taxpayer money to pay for packing houses where product rots yet the farmers still get paid by the taxpayer.
It's so tiring listening to the same old rhetoric. To paraphrase Eamonn Butler from his recent publication for the Institute for Economic Affairs in London, England, Public Choice - A Primer, if you buy a cup of coffee in the free market, you know exactly what it will cost you. You pay the whole cost and you get the whole benefit. But if government implements a programme, say in agriculture, the costs and benefits are spread among many people, yet you don't know exactly what it will end up costing you, or if you will get any direct benefit.
I think it would be better to close the department of agriculture quite frankly. I've had enough of the same promises every five years.
What's that saying about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?
Back in September 2011 Mr. John Hedden released an overview of Bahamian agriculture, you can read his seven part series here.
I would think Mr. Hedden's experience would be of some use to our Ministers of Agriculture? But on second thought that's doubtful as they all come to table believing they have a magic wand. Problem is the wand is our tax dollars and every new generations debt burden to bear.