By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamian public's interest in farming and growing their own produce has "quadrupled" due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the head of an agriculture group said yesterday.
Caron Shepherd, president of the newly-formed Bahamas Agro Entrepreneurs Group, told Tribune Business yesterday that while "it's sad that it took a pandemic event for the populace to understand" the industry's value it has also provided farmers with much-needed attention.
And, with the head of the United Nations' (UN) World Food Programme this week warning numerous countries face a "famine of biblical proportions" due to COVID-19's impact on agricultural production, Ms Shepherd argued that The Bahamas needed to "take the bull by the horns" and take clearly-defined strides towards improved food security.
"This is something that has been on the agenda for quite some time but has never got any attention, and it's only now that we're realising how much attention it needs," she added of food security. "The minister [Michael Pintard] is trying to inspire the farmers to do the best jobs they can at this point, and is working behind the scenes to put some far behind it and get it going.
"It's extremely urgent. Some countries are saying they are not shipping outside their borders at this particular time, and as a result of that we might not be able to get certain items from outside. We have to produce ourselves. The farmers are really excited. This is one of those times when they are really busy and the populace is realising the value.
"A lot of them are coming down to Down to Earth Adventure Farms looking for seedlings to start their own gardens," Ms Shepherd added. "The populace is realising the value of being able to produce a few of their own every day items, and are starting to value the expertise of the farmers.
"I would say all this has at least quadrupled the interest of the majority of persons coming and purchasing fresh produce and getting backyard gardens going. We're having a significant increase in that area. That's very encouraging."
Ms Shepherd said the Agro Entrepreneurs Group had continued to press forward with their plans for developing greenhouses and grow houses that will enable year-round crop production in The Bahamas, adding that it hoped to have "something in hand by the end of this week" in terms of a concrete proposal following a series of video conferences with its Israeli coalition partners.
"I tend to say that in every crisis there's an opportunity, but it's also time for innovation," she added. "That's where we're at. All the farmers are stepping up their game. Even though the summer is coming they're still planting and growing to see how much produce comes out. It's sad it's taken a pandemic event for the populace to understand the value."