Minister Sweeting - Remarks at 'Food for Future Summit' in Dubai

Bahamas Weekly

descH.E. Mariam Almheiri, Minister of Climate Change and the Environment, Esteemed Heads of Government, Distinguished Leaders and Delegates

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honored to stand here today as the Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources in The Bahamas. We are a small island nation made up of 700 islands and cays; our population is around 400,000 and yet we share in the global crisis of food security.

This summit highlights how vulnerable the world is in the fight against poverty and hunger through food security. No nation is immune to this challenge. However, our collective efforts to be here and participate in this Summit and Expo speak to our resilience as friends and allies as we face these challenges during the extraordinary times of COVID-19 head on and together - offering our vulnerabilities and sharing our resources toward a common goal.

I note that this event comes as the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization predicts worldwide food production needs to increase by 60% by 2050 to cope with a population that will top nine billion.

I am pleased that more than 60 countries from every corner of the world have decided to collaborate in sharing strategic solutions that will enhance food security. I am encouraged that this summit is bringing together farmers, companies and governments who are relentless in their pursuit of food security.

In The Bahamas, the alarms for food security are ringing. I note that the UAE and The Bahamas share the similar challenges in that The Bahamas currently imports nearly 90 percent of our food, while the UAE imports about the same percentage. The price tag for imported food is pegged at $1 billion U.S dollars – a disproportionate bill that we cannot continue to pay.

We must make a paradigm shift as we endeavor to revolutionize Agriculture and Aquaculture in our country. In this regard, The Bahamas is looking for innovative ways to achieve food security. We are eager to learn about new, vibrant and sustainable ways to grow our food, and in the long run, be able to feed ourselves for many generations to come.

Since The Bahamas is in the centre of a Hurricane zone, we face severe vulnerability in sustaining our food supply. We also face the challenge of Climate Change and rising sea levels which are equally worrisome. We note that this is not only a Bahamas-issue but a global one. Therefore, it was vital for The Bahamas to commit to the AIM for Climate. We must be able to not only farm but use technologies to protect what we are able to grow. It is fundamental that we increase our resiliency with global partners who share in our concern and passion for food security and stability.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Food security is high on the agenda for The Bahamas, and we must be progressive in our pursuit of it. In this global pandemic, we cannot ignore that food prices have increased dramatically and that worldwide, shipping and logistics are becoming a challenge. With this sharp increase, we not only need to build resilience in our food production, but also find ways to export what we produce to increase our revenue. Rising food prices diminish household incomes and our ability to feed ourselves.

In response, my Ministry seeks to increase our export capacity through Agriculture and Aquaculture by offering incentives and funding – bearing in mind that we must grow where we live and eat what we grow.

As The Bahamas is an archipelago, there are a number of islands that focus on food security. While the island of New Providence has a number of farmlands, most farms can be found in our Family Islands namely Andros, Abaco, Eleuthera, Cat Island and Exuma that have greater capacity for farming. There are hundreds of farmers who are hungry for information and technical support to increase their knowledge, crop yield and income.

Additionally, we see the need to empower our youth and women to help sustain our food systems and increase productivity among our people. This is because most of our farmers are over the age of 60 years, which threatens the sustainability of our Agriculture industry. We have essentially missed generations of farmers. Therefore, we must work diligently to encourage farming to strengthen our food systems.

In our country, we have created an institute called The Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) aimed at advancing agriculture, through education, research and technology among our youth. We are aware of the need to share resources and transfer knowledge. We are eager to garner partnerships to this end. While this institute is located in Andros – our largest island, it is our aim to duplicate this programme throughout The Bahamas. We also intend to collaborate with the University of The Bahamas to eliminate duplication and incorporate the administration, quality control, instructional, curriculum and research capabilities of the university to execute the initiatives of food security, agribusiness and the blue and green economies.

We are working closely with governmental agencies to build a state-of-the-art feed mill using new technology and utilizing locally grown products and additives to create a healthier, balanced feed, to ensure that farmers produce healthier, organic livestock and cattle. Moreover, we are working to ensure the quality of feed is on par with international standards. We are also working on further developing the cascarilla industry and making good strides in doing so.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In this summit, we see an enormous opportunity to strengthen ties with successful countries; some that have walked in our shoes and grown tremendous industries from scratch; some that have always operated at advanced levels and are world leaders in food and technology. We believe that partnership is key to providing pathways to growing sustainable food systems and food for the future of our country. Globally, there are hurdles to overcome, however I am proud to say that The Bahamas is committed to help grow food for the future. Thank you.