Students working with the Sustainable Exuma research programme are stationed in Long Island, Cat Island, and all through Exuma. I will write at more length later, as I am rushing this in order to catch a ferry to the Exuma Cays this morning, but here are a few notes about what we, the coordinators of the research, learned in Long Island during the two days we were there helping the students settle in and begin their week of research.
- Long Island farmers have stopped farming for money. This is a change, and a sad one, as even in the 1990s the farmers in Long Island were growing enough produce to fill trucks they took to both packing houses. The reasons are:
- Hurricanes – there have been numerous storms over the past several years which have wiped out crops
- Government policies – the prices paid by the packing house are too low to make it a worthwhile investment for farmers to take their crops there, and in recent years (I couldn’t tell how recent) the packing house has also introduced a processing fee for its services which makes it entirely a waste of time for farmers to continue their investment
- Transportation – Southern Long Island (the most populated area of the island, the one with the most farms) does not have a dedicated mailboat that stops at Clarence Town and the boat which leaves from Simms is not widely trusted to deliver goods in either direction (it is also a hell of a long way to drive from Deadmans Cay to Simms, so if there is any lack of trust there, the effort won’t be made
I found the above out from a chat with a grocery store in Pettys/Hamiltons which had no local produce on display, much to my distress. All the produce in the store is shipped in. Like Cat Island and Exuma, Long Island has stopped growing produce now.
So if anyone wants to know why we Bahamians can’t feed ourselves, take a look at those reasons. To them I would add the civil servants and other policymakers who assume that successful commercial farming must be done on an industrial scale as it is done in the USA and elsewhere. This is not necessarily the case. It is entirely possible, even preferable, to invest in cottage industries that can supply smaller quantities of high-quality produce to neighbouring areas. I am in Exuma right now, and at the Peace and Plenty we can’t get fresh fruit with our meals. In Long Island, guavas are in season. The packing house/mailboat/government dock system requires each island’s farmers to send their produce for a pittance to Nassau; this is counterintuitive. If Long Island farmers could supply even the small resorts in Exuma with produce that would be a good thing. Of course, there is no good reason why such cottage industries can’t be started in Exuma either; farmers’ markets are growing in Nassau, and they can find a footing in Exuma and Long Island with the right attitudes and a change in policy.
- Conversely, Long Island fishermen are still doing fairly well, especially during lobster season, but that work is seasonal and they have to diversify.
- Long Island is experiencing more tourism and an increase in winter residents. The flight we came in on was populated with tourists as well as locals and when we arrived at the airport, we found it very hard to find rental cars. Some businesses are benefitting from the small-scale tourism that is there. Of course, it’s spring break, and the number of visitors may be anomalous.
- So far, it would seem that the number of tourists in Long Island is sustainable. This is a gross generalization but on an island where ground water is a very precious commodity, plenty of thought must be given any idea of establishing any large-scale resort anywhere, as the supply of fresh water is a real concern. At the moment, there are numerous small inns throughout the island, and this seems to be a sustainable model. More research, of course, would have to be done, but these are preliminary observations.