BHA/BAIC Initiative Boosts Local Produce Sales

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Huge quantities of Bahamian-grown vegetables are being shipped fresh into the e-mail inboxes of hoteliers, restaurants, chefs and wholesalers on a weekly basis as part of a new promotional effort by the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC) and the Bahamas Hotel Association (BHA).

Despite the initiative having begun just two weeks ago, farmers are already seeing the benefit of the increased exposure and linkage with buyers that has been created as a result of a BAIC-produced weekly "produce notice", which gives those interested the information they need to know what produce is available to buy, when, and at what price, from Bahamian farmers.

Candy Pinder, of Big Bird Avocado Farm in Abaco, welcomed the development yesterday, crediting it with creating the opportunity for the farm to shift hundreds of cases of its Avocado crop in just one week, after slow sales during the earlier part of the season.

She anticipates the farm's entire remaining pear harvest will now be exhausted by next week.
"We're very happy that they've put this together," said Ms Pinder. "We were getting a lot of calls."

BHA executive vice-president, Frank Comito, and BAIC agricultural marketing officer, Amanda Wells, said the information collated by BAIC from farmers and included in the e-mail, which the BHA helps to distribute, provides the "missing link" that was necessary before farmers and the tourism industry could be better aligned to each other's mutual benefit.

Former president of the BHA, Robert Sands, had for several years sought to increase linkages between Bahamian farmers and the economy's main engine, tourism. Now the information is reaching around 150 hotel properties and restaurants - including 50 chefs - who make many of the purchasing decisions for food per week, noted Mr Comito.

Highlighting Mr Sands' commitment to the issue, Mr Comito nonetheless said that "the real kudos" is due primarily to BAIC, who went out and liaised with farmers before putting together the informative notice, which it is hoped may help make a dent in the country's enormous food import bill of around $500 million a year.

Ms Wells said: "The farmers pretty much have their act together and the buyers are eager to buy, we just needed to make it easier."

Alongside colourful photos of the produce available for purchase in islands such as Andros and Abaco - which have so far included avocado, sweet pepper, eggplant, cucumber and goat pepper - contact details for the farmers are highlighted, as well as details such as quantities, prices, and when the goods will reach the dock in Nassau.

Quality checks are also done by BAIC officers, providing additional reassurance to potential buyers that they will not waste money on "shoddy" goods.

However, Ms Wells said that, fortunately, officers have found that quality has rarely been an issue.

"We haven't had to turn anyone away because of the quality, it has been phenomenal this year. The farmers have also been so competitive versus the market price," she said.

Mr Comito said he does not see the drive to get hotels and restaurants to buy more Bahamian produce as simply a matter of supporting local growers for the sake of it.

"There are a number of compelling reasons why it's attractive. I think if it's done right buyers can find produce that's fresher than the imported stuff, that's price competitive and that will also contribute to revenue retention in the country," said the BHA executive.

"We've been getting feedback from some of our members saying: 'This is very helpful'. BAIC should be commended in putting their heads together in coming up with this."

Ms Wells said that any hotels, restaurants or other potential buyers who wish to find out about the availability of local Bahamian produce can contact her at 322 3740 to be added to the mailing list. Any farmers who would like to have their produce promoted through the BAIC notice can also make themselves known to BAIC in this way.

The Tribune
Last Updated on Monday, 07 March 2011 13:35