Minister of Agriculture Michael Pintard.
By Riel Major
Tribune Staff Reporter
MINISTER of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard yesterday defended the 2019/2020 budget increase for consultancy agencies, domestic and international travel and the Bahamas Agricultural & Industrial Corporation (BAIC).
Speaking to reporters at the Ministry of Agriculture, Mr Pintard said each year his ministry will increase the amount of funding for consultants.
“We believe that the $300,000 is not sufficient. There is a wide range of areas where consulting is required. One of the things we are doing now is converting to e-agriculture so much of the permits, for example, you should apply for online… you are able to do so from smartphones, laptops and that’s both for agriculture as well as marine resources. We have just finished developing the mechanism in order to do that, so someone doesn’t have to land in Grand Bahama in East End and go to the administrator’s office to get a permit.”
He added: “They can do all of that online in agriculture. We want the permitting system to be pretty much be automated. We would like for those farmers that are in the Family Island working with livestock for them to be able to take pictures of wounds or an ailment that their animal is having (and be) able to send it to a veterinarian. A lot of the information that we want distributed through our extension service, we want to be able to do that through using ICT and so consultancy services that’s an example of the kind of services we need.”
The minister said for each department a list was made of the things needed to be done.
He said: “We do not have in-house expertise to execute and so $300,000 is a drop in the bucket. I remember a time not so long ago you had one consultant making more than that carrying out functions. We have a series of areas in the ministry that require our expertise. “
He also said: “One of them is with respect to dealing with the issue with conch and having a candid discussion with fishers throughout the country about what our concerns are about the pressures that has been brought on the conch stock and getting their feedback on what we intend to do over the course of the next six months.
“The same thing is true with the Nassau grouper, we have just allocated $20,000 to a preeminent expert on the Nassau grouper who happens to be a Bahamian. Helping to defray some of the cost for the study on the Nassau grouper which again we have been in discussions with fishers and others throughout the Family Islands and of course we are in the discussion on the marine protected areas so both in agriculture and marine resources.”
As it relates to domestic travel expenses, he said: “We have been moving through the Family Islands hearing directly from farmers and fishers with what their challenges are and so we are able to move as quick as possible to remedy it. Again, the figure you saw in my view should be increased even further.”
Regarding international travel, his ministry officials are attending meetings with ministers and technical officers working in agriculture in Caribbean and elsewhere.
When asked about the budget increase of BAIC, Mr Pintard said the agency has had a “shortfall” in its budget that had to be remedied.