By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
A Cabinet minister has underscored the need for "data" to drive government agricultural policy, with stakeholder consultation "as often as possible" critical to this effort.
Michael Pintard, pictured, minister of agriculture and marine resources, told Tribune Business that he "welcomed" a recent Inter-American Development Bank analysis of this nation's agriculture and fisheries sector and would evaluate its findings.
The newly-published IDB analysis of Bahamian agricultural and fisheries policy called on the Government to reduce the role it plays in a sector that generates just 1.6 percent of annual GDP, and instead "incentivise" the private sector to fill the void.
The report, obtained by Tribune Business, said that despite their relatively small GDP contribution the agriculture and fisheries industries still represented a key source of Bahamian economic diversification if their potential was fully exploited.
It found that support provided to Bahamian farmers was equivalent to 19.08 percent of gross farm receipts between 2012-2014, with government policy resulting in consumers "paying higher prices" for local produce - something it branded as especially "damaging" for low income households.
While not commenting directly on the report's findings, Mr Pintard said: "When government introduces legislation, policies, programmes or projects, by and large those things should be driven by empirical data or studies.
"Whereever possible and, more often than not, studies ought to be conducted and some data ought to be able to drive the process. Secondly, government should engage as often as possible in consultation with various stakeholders so that people affected directly and indirectly can have a say on how to act and react."
The Minister added: "One of the challenges we have in the country is there have been crucial decisions that were made and they were not supported by the science. The need for study and data is crucial in a number of sectors, and particularly in agriculture and marine resources.
"Over the years we have made some progress in terms of gathering relevant data that assisted past administrations that is assisting us now in making important decisions in the marine sector, such as the closed seasons; the way in which we have set standards for what size conch should be harvested.
"All of this has been formed by careful studies that specify certain areas that should be designated as marine protected areas, which has again been born out of looking at where the breeding grounds are for various species. It is important for us to get the data."
The IDB analysis called for greater efficiency in Government spending on agriculture through the introduction of performance monitoring programmes for particular policy initiatives. Mr Pintard said: "International and intergovernmental agencies step in and provide a service in terms of conducting studies. It helps us tremendously in improving the country's' performance in that area.
"The data is useful for producers whose capacity we are attempting to build, and whose production capacity is important if we are to meet our goal of food security. We welcome the study done by the IDB, which is the first step in an ongoing series of updates we believe are necessary. The Ministry will now, having been briefed by them and heard the presentation, sit down as a team and do an evaluation."