By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
BAMSI yesterday said it had minimised Hurricane Irma’s potential impact through early harvesting, revealing the storm had cost it just 8-10 per cent of its banana and papaya crops.
Alassis Braynen, the Bahamas Agricultural and Marine Science Institute’s (BAMSI) chief executive, said its entire papaya offering and other crops would “have been gone” had Andros taken Irma’s full force.
Fearing the worst, he explained that the Institute harvested its green papayas early and sent them to Nassau ahead of the storm, with the effect of “opening a new market”.
“We had some damage,” Mr Braynen said of Irma, “specifically towards the bananas and papayas, but I would say it is minimal.
“We lost about 8 per cent of the banana crop, and about 10 per cent of the papaya trees. Normally we ship just the fresh papayas into Nassau for sale, but what we did a few days before the hurricane in relation to the papayas was to expand the harvest into green papayas.”
Mr Braynen explained that green papayas were used for processing and as a “base” product for sauces. These were sold to distribution centres, and he added: “We harvested some of the green papayas because we knew that if we took the full brunt of the storm, the papayas will be gone.
“It really opened a new market, which is what BAMSI is all about.”
While BAMSI’s sheep and goat herds also escaped Irma, the hurricane’s passage through the Caribbean - and the devastating impact that Hurricanes Joaquin and Matthew had on many Bahamian farmers - highlight the difficulties in developing agriculture as a sustainable industry in this nation.
Mr Braynen acknowledged that the increased frequency and severity of hurricanes was “a big risk in agriculture”, and joined calls for the creation of “some type of agriculture insurance” through which Bahamian farmers could recover their losses.
“Otherwise you have to factor it into your losses for the long-term,” he added. “It’s not getting any easier. We’ve got to put in some type of insurance, whether each business puts aside a certain amount or co-operative puts aside a certain amount. There has to be something.”
Mr Braynen said diversity, whether by crop type, location or farming technique, was key to developing a more sustainable Bahamian agricultural industry.
“Diversity is strength,” he told Tribune Business. “It’s something we have to look at, and there are so many levels; increasingly so.
“Each island has different conditions. The temperatures in Grand Bahama and Abaco are cooler, allowing for different types of crops to be grown.
“We have to try to promote the diversity of the conditions to survive this. It’s not going to be one silver bullet but a myriad of things.”
Mr Braynen suggested that the Bahamas needed to look at alternative farming techniques, such as containerisation and aquaponics.