By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The impact from a $1.2m project to revive the Andros sponging industry has been "less than anticipated" so far due to Hurricane Matthew and the 2017 general election.
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), in an assessment of the project's progress to-date, said the risk of failure had "increased to medium" as time was running out to execute on all the goals despite the creation of the Bahamas Commercial Spongers Association.
"Although progress is seen to be slow, activities are in progress," the IDB's project status report for the period to end-June 2017 warned, noting the formal launch in both Mangrove Cay and Red Bays.
"Initially the project experienced delays as a result of Hurricane Matthew, which devastated several islands of The Bahamas, including parts of Andros. Further delays were experienced as a result of general elections; a change of government; change of minister; and now as BAIC await the arrival of the newly-appointed chairman."
That chairman, Michael Foulkes, is now in place, but the IDB report added: "Timelines have been adjusted, project risks continue to be monitored, and adjustments made where necessary.
"To-date the project's risk level has increased to medium as due to our delays there is now a probability that the remaining time may not be sufficient to complete all of the deliverables as planned.
"Once completed, a low risk remains that 'the Association will not be sustainable'. While this does not threaten the execution of the project, it is notable as it is something that constantly requires some level of mitigation as we implement," the multilateral lending agency continued.
"BAIC continues its commitment to the success of this project, and hence is determined to ensure that all resources are available to ensure its success. Therefore, the likelihood of this project achieving its final objectives remains optimistic."
The three-year project is supposed to result in Bahamian spongers enjoying an average annual sales growth of 17 percent. It is designed to benefit 660 persons on Andros - an island where more than half the households live on under $20,000 per year.
A project memorandum, previously obtained by Tribune Business, revealed that Bahamian spongers will be directed towards more sustainable harvesting practices, a move that will benefit 1.4 million hectares of sea floor.
And, in June this year, the Bahamas Commercial Spongers Association signed two contracts to lease and renovate a building that will become the sponge processing plant for Mangrove Cay.