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Eleuthera farming ‘difficult’ to sustain

Wrinkle urges supportive policies for farmers
Guardian Business Reporter

Published: May 01, 2013

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Businessmen on the island of Eleuthera believe the farming industry has great economic potential, although it remains “extremely difficult” to sustain.

“Farming is an extremely difficult endeavor in The Bahamas generally and Eleuthera is no different,” according to Stephen Wrinkle, a notable contractor.

Wrinkle is one of the developers behind the $25 million Pineapple Hills project that’s under construction in Gregory Town, Eleuthera. The real estate development includes a pineapple farm as its focal point.

“It helps to enhance the environment and then we get the support of the property owners who help with the maintenance of the farm,” he said.

“We thought that the farm would make a great focal point for the development.  Because there are very few pineapple farmers left in Eleuthera, we were excited about the idea of getting back into the pineapple business to produce indigenous fruits for the marketplace.”

He said the biggest challenge for farmers is the lack of assistance and incentives.  Wrinkle added that there are not enough people in the field to produce crops, so there is not enough volume.

“It is a problem.  There is no crop insurance.  There is no assistance to farmers in the country.  You’ve got more people working in the Ministry of Agriculture than who do farming in the country.  We’re terribly overloaded at the administrative level shuffling papers and there are very few people in the field actually producing product,” according to Wrinkle.

“Our entire agricultural sector and outlook needs to be readdressed because it’s a difficult situation in a difficult environment.  It would take some really dedicated efforts by government and farmers to attempt to make The Bahamas self-sustainable.  It’s tough because it costs so much money to get the product to the market.”

Wrinkle told Guardian Business that farmers, especially on Eleuthera, are at a disadvantage just from the amount of land they own.

“Most of the farmers don’t own the larger tracts of land.  They either own or lease smaller tracts of land.  There are approximately six farmers in our area that have any kind of significant acreage and that’s an impediment,” he noted.

“When you consider that at the turn of the century, I think twelve million pineapples were exported from Eleuthera and now there may be a 12,000.  At this point, it’s almost extinct.

He continued, “The marketing, collection and sales of it are difficult.  It’s not a simple solution to the problem.  Hopefully, they will be working towards that.  Certainly when you lay down four or five acres of a crop and the hurricane comes and wipes you out and there is no assistance or crop insurance to get started again, people just can’t afford to do it.”

Thomas Sands, president of the Eleuthera Chamber of Commerce, said he is confident there are farming opportunities on the island, but the approach, he added, must be innovative and modern.

“I believe there are opportunities in farming but it has to be done at a different level.  It can’t be slash and burn or subsistence farming,” he told Guardian Business.

Minister of State for Investments Khaalis Rolle has reported a rising interest in farming on the island of Eleuthera.

“Several individuals have approached me about farming in Eleuthera so there has definitely been interest shown in that area,” he explained. “There are also several developers that are interested in expanding existing properties and originating new properties particularly in the south.”

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