By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Farmers United Co-operative, the small group of farmers skirted by Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis earlier this week, have demanded a meeting, “vitally important to our survival” still takes place.
The group was turned away from the Office of the Prime Minister on Monday. A video of the incident has since spread across Facebook.
In the short video, several members of the cooperative can be seen having a verbal exchange with a Royal Bahamas Defence Force officer outside the Office of the Prime Minister, while another accused Dr Minnis of exiting the building through a side door.
The group shouted as they walked across the parking lot in an attempt to attract the prime minister’s attention, however he got into his vehicle and sped away.
Press Secretary Anthony Newbold yesterday confirmed a meeting was originally scheduled with the group, but had to be “reset” due to “last-minute conflicts”.
Neither side could say if the meeting was eventually rescheduled.
Caron Shepherd, president of the association of roughly 100 farmers, said while she was “shocked and confused” by Dr Minnis’ actions, there is still a need for him to “come to the table and hear what we have to say.”
Ms Shepherd said the group has not been able to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Matthew and setbacks brought on by a contaminated feed mill.
She claimed the group has, for much of the last 18 months, advocated for critical discussions with both the current government and the previous Christie administration.
Despite these attempts however, Ms Shepherd said the group has only been fed “lip-service” as successive governments have only attempted to “pacify the drama” week to week.
“The frustration is evident,” she told The Tribune. “Farmers came all the way from the Family Island to be a part of this.
“There is a nine-month window for farmers to yield quality crops, June to September, we’ve tried to get this government’s attention prior to last June.
“If farmers are to survive, we knew these next few months would be critical.
“We want to discuss everything from subsidies to feed; fences to elements of crime we face.
“Simply, we want the government to set up avenues to get our crops and livestock into the local markets and if possible, the international markets.
“We don’t want handouts. We want to facilitate operations that would keep our businesses going.”
“The farmers are hurting,” Ms Shepherd continued. “That’s what we wanted to get through to the prime minister. We met with the Minister (Renward Wells), but that didn’t help in any way. Just more empty promises.”
“This was the next step,” she added.
Last March, the co-operative presented then-Agriculture Minister V Alfred Gray with its proposal for a $60 million government subsidy to help their operations recover from “the heart-wrenching double whammy” of Hurricane Matthew and contaminated feed mill.
The group’s March 27, 2017 letter to Mr Gray requested government financial help amounting to $30,000 per acre of farm land.
Estimating that there were around 2,000 acres of land on New Providence being used for agriculture, the co-operative said this equated to a total $60 million subsidy.
The proposal was never approved.