By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The chairman of the newly-formed Farmers United Association (FUA) yesterday said he “feels like throwing in the towel” on agriculture, accusing the Government of neglecting the sector by focusing solely on BAMSI.
Dennis Cates, proprietor of Cates Farm and Petting Zoo, told Tribune Business that the Ministry of Agriculture and other relevant government agencies “don’t give two hoots” about front-line farmers who have been in the field for years.
He contrasted the Government’s lack of support for veteran farmers, and seeming absence of a coherent policy strategy for Bahamian agriculture, with the multi-million dollar financial support given to the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute (BAMSI).
Suggesting that the marked difference in treatment was demoralising many farmers, including himself, Mr Cates said the Government’s agriculture-support agencies had done nothing to help the New Providence industry recover from a triple blow.
Besides Hurricane Matthew-related damages and livestock deaths resulting from suspected contaminated feed at the Government-run mill, Mr Cates said he and other farmers were “getting hit with theft on a weekly basis”.
Tribune Business revealed last week how these problems led to a meeting between the FUA and V. Alfred Gray, minister of agriculture and marine resources, during which the Association sought a $60 million government subsidy to help it recover from these woes.
However, Mr Cates told this newspaper that it was “absolutely right” when it asked whether farmers felt neglected by the Government’s seeming laser-like focus on BAMSI as the sole cure for all agricultural problems.
“They really don’t give two hoots about us,” he told Tribune Business. “They’re talking about another $20 million for BAMSI now, and another $20 million for BAMSI by 2021. They ain’t talking about a dollar for the farmers; not a dollar.
“No attention is paid to us. That makes me feel like throwing in the towel; to hell with farming. The Government should be the one to help you up, the crutch when you fall down, but they’re not giving out any sort of relief. I might as well throw in the towel.”
Mr Cates reiterated the belief, widely held by farmers, that contaminated feed from the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC) run feed mill was responsible for the recent livestock deaths on New Providence.
“We haven’t received any compensation from BAIC for the bad feed, which we purchased from them, and that killed all our livestock,”he said. “It’s appalling.”
Mr Gray previously suggested it had not been proven that contaminated feed from the BAIC-run mill was the cause of widespread livestock deaths, with a sample having been sent off for testing.
The results have yet to be disclosed, but Mr Cates said yesterday he had lost livestock “in all areas”, including eight breeding sows, goats, sheep, chicken and ducks.
“The hurricane was another devastating blow which the farmers suffered, and we haven’t recovered from this yet. There seems to be no way out,” he told Tribune Business.
Pointing out that the Government was still helping farmers in the southern Bahamas to recover from Hurricane Joaquin, Mr Cates said the Ministry of Agriculture and other agencies had to-date made “empty promises” of Matthew assistance.
He described this as “adding insult to injury”, given that pledges to help repair animal cages and roofs, and provide seedlings, had yet to materialise.
Emphasising that farming was in his blood from both sides of his family, Mr Cates told Tribune Business: “It’s devastating and very upsetting to go through this with no assistance whatsoever.
“The hurricane and feed ain’t the only whammy. We’re getting hit with theft on a weekly basis. It don’t make sense going to the police station; you might as well go and buy a gun and shoot those people stealing from you.”
The FUA’s letter to Mr Gray highlighted the damage being inflicted on many New Providence farmers by rampant, widespread theft, which it described as “despicable and a total annoyance”.
When asked by Tribune Business how much he personally had been impacted by theft, Mr Cates yesterday replied: “If I start to talk now, we’ll be on the phone till morning. I keep detailed records.”
He revealed that more than 200 goats had been stolen from his Golden Isles Road site over a two-year period, and added: “Who am I? Another farmer so disgusted with the Bahamas when it comes to farming. It’s sickening.
“BAIC gets $6-$8 million per annum to pay staff who sit down and do what? That $6-$8 million doesn’t even go to help farming.”
Mr Cates charged that the price of cattle wire had increased by 83.3 per cent, from $180 per roll to $330, since BAIC took over the Gladstone Road feed mill five years ago.
“Where are we going?” he asked. “We’re like a hamster in a treadmill. We’re just here to say we’re farmers. It’s not an industry to make a living from any more.
“I’m pumping funds into my farm from other businesses to keep it breathing, keep it alive. I’m on life support. If I didn’t have some type of other business to pump money in, I’d have been out of business a long time ago.”
Mr Cates, who earns rental income from leasing property to an auto body repair business, said redistributing funds earmarked for BAMSI to assist front-line farmers would be the best way to revive the agricultural sector.
“Get that to the farmers as life support,” he argued, “and to take food security to the next level so we are able to feed ourselves.”