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Lucayan Tropical, a top food producer, is rising to the government's pledge to ban certain imports if the same products can be produced locally.
Tim Hauber, the general manager, said there is "no doubt" his operation could supply the entire country with cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers. And to prove it, the leading agriculturalist will be leading V. Alfred Gray, the minister of agriculture, on a tour of his farm in the next two weeks.
Last month, Gray told Guardian Business that the government will ban or impose high tariffs on any food item that can be produced locally in sufficient quantity, and at the right price.
Hauber believes there is now a renewal of interest and confidence in the industry since those comments.
"There are a handful of products that we could without a doubt supply to the entire country," he told Guardian Business. "At least while they are in season. I can supply all of the country's needs of cucumbers and sweet peppers. Hands down."
The chief at Lucayan Tropical, one of the new food producers in the country, stands as a strong example to others in the sector. The Bahamian food bill has remained persistently high over the years, hovering in the $500 million range, with the vast majority imported from the U.S. or Mexico.
Hauber pointed out that it will take a time to realistically bring the local industry up to a standard that places a noticeable dent in that bill. He encouraged other producers, however, to step up and focus on specific foods.
"The Bahamas is not going to produce its own food. But we need to take key products and get that going well, achieve some profitability, and then you'll see the momentum going," he said. "We don't need to get super theoretical about it. We just need to get that ball rolling."
Calling the minister's latest remarks on the industry "balanced", the top farmer speculated his current weekly production to be 400 cases of cucumbers, 800 cases of colored peppers and 500 cases of tomatoes.
Lucayan Tropical now sells to various supermarkets in the country, as well as hotels, but he said it is still a common sight to see a cucumber from the U.S. or Canada.
Much of the country's produce ends up going unused and wasted, he noted, which is a common source of frustration among farmers.
And that's where Amanda Wells comes in, the agricultural officer at the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation. Her role in the "Buy Fresh. Buy Bahamian" campaign includes collecting data from farmers on what they are producing.
That role will become increasingly important as local food producers attempt to meet the government's expectations, and ultimately, curb the influx of foreign products.
"I am on board with that. If the numbers are good, I would endeavor to do something about it, and submit it to government," she said.
The BAIC now offers free consultation services for would-be and current farmers. Wells encouraged those interested in the industry to stop by, as the organization offers complimentary business plans for those looking to get off the ground.
Gray, the minister of agriculture, has acknowledged that "it's not an easy situation out there".
"So I am certainly willing to do what I can to assist the industry. We have to consider the consumer. If we can't get enough of the product, that's a problem. But I am prepared to consider banning certain things from imports."
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
THE BAHAMIAN food retail market will ultimately be dominated by just three major players, AML Foods' chairman telling Tribune Business in the wake of Robin Hood's demise that consolidation was "inevitable".
Dionisio D'Aguilar said the surviving "components" would be Supervalue, AML Foods with its Solomon's SuperCentre and Cost Right formats, and the neighbourhood food store chains/Mom and Pop businesses, suggesting that the long-anticipated food retailing shake-out would also claim the struggling City Markets supermarket chain.
Adding that "the jury is still out" on the long-term future of another major player ...