By DANA SMITH dsmith@tribunemedia.net DESCRIBING the Bahamas as a "nation of imports", BAIC chairman Edison Key called for more support for local farmers. He also claimed the sector is "grossly under-budgeted" by the government. Mr Key was speaking yesterday during the launch of the "Buy Fresh; Buy Bahamian" campaign, spearheaded by the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC). "The initiative seeks to bridge the gap between (local) farmers and producers on the one hand, and wholesalers, retailers, restaurateurs, hoteliers, farmers market operators, and the general public on the other," he said. According to Mr Key, a "tremendous amount of money" is spent each year on importing fruits, vegetables and meats, which could all be bought fresh in the Bahamas instead. Local retailers who were present echoed his sentiments, claiming they spend "millions of dollars" every year importing produce and meats. "We need to change our attitudes and the way we do business here in the Bahamas, because we need to support our Bahamian people," Mr Key said. "We are a nation of imports and we need to change that whole system." He called purchasing Bahamian goods, an "investment" in the economy. "Imagine what it would do for the livelihood and standard of living in the farming community, if only a third of the estimated $500 million annual national food bill is spent in support of Bahamian farmers and producers," Mr Key said. "Imagine the additional jobs and careers it could create." The chairman said the government "should get serious" about supporting local farming, and properly support its Agriculture Fund. If the agriculture industry is "developed in full form," Mr Key believes the Bahamas would not have to rely so heavily on imports. The Buy Fresh, Buy Bahamian campaign seeks to provide greater access to a wider variety of locally grown produce for Bahamians. Representatives of Super Value, Bahamas Food Services, Continental Foods, and the Atlantis Resort were all present at the launch of the campaign and have expressed interest in supporting it. Also discussed was BAIC's annual Farmers' and Buyers' Forum, which will take place this Thursday in Andros. The forum allows for food retailers to meet with local farmers, tour their farms, and view their products.


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