Self-sustaining food and livestock production has always been a difficult objective for the Bahamas. Throughout its modern history, one agricultural project after the other, began with great applause, but in a short time, ended in failure.
In 1950, the Colonial Development Corporation in London announced an ambitious, multimillion pound development plans for Africa, and the Bahamas. The two were linked together, under one umbrella, as under-developed areas of great agricultural potential, within the British Empire.
By 1950, time was moving on for England. Two world wars, mounting war debts for reconstruction, rising inflation and unemployment at home, meant the writing was on the wall for Great Britain. The Empire was growing, and though loyalties held, grumbling within nations around the globe were already beginning. Independences were on the horizon within its colonial empire. As much as possible, Britain knew it was in its best interest to help the states they could in planning for a separate future.
The goals were simple enough for Bechuanaland (became The Republic of Botswana in 1966), Swaziland, Nigeria, Andros, Eleuthera and Abaco. Plans were drawn up to help these struggling developing areas increase food, livestock rearing and industry to help them become more food production independent, instead of dependent.
The Colonial Development Corporation had earmarked £1,034,000 for the Bahamas. This was an incredible amount to be invested in agricultural land on Abaco, Eleuthera and Andros.
To put this figure into a better perspective, consider that £100 in 1950 with adjustments for inflation, is equivalent to what £3,223.09 is in 2018. In other words, in today’s money, the 1950 Colonial Development investment would be the equivalent of over £32 million pounds.
“The task of making the Bahamas largely self supporting as regards food will involve projects on three of the main islands Eleuthera, Andros and Abaco. Capital so far organised for the Bahamas is £1,034,000.”
“The corporation has bought 8,000 acres on the island of Eleuthera, where pilot areas of such crops as citrus and pineapple have been grown. Operating at first from this basis, the corporation will undertake a project on the underdeveloped island of Andros, which will provide tomatoes, fresh vegetables and potatoes for local and American markets, fodder crops for cattle on the other islands, and enough maize (corn) to meet the needs of the Bahamas.
Areas already selected on Abaco are being investigated with a view to the production of cattle and other livestock to supply the demand for fresh meat in the islands.”
(The Guardian (London) 31 October 1950)
BY 1953, A LARGE INVESTMENT ON ANDROS FAILS
For the Bahamas, one of the most expensive and repetitive exercises, throughout its history, has been the continued attempts at self-sustaining agricultural and livestock development.
Broadly speaking, agricultural development began to slowly collapse after slave emancipation. Large scale plantations were replaced by a small scale farming – sharecropper type farming. People went to market with what they had. Eventually, large local exporters emerged who bought the produce of small scale local farmers. They in turn exported Bahamian grown produce abroad.
There were bursts of large agricultural exports in citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit. Then came a sustained profitable period of pineapple and tomato exports. This however slowly died out. Minerals and nutrients in the soil had been depleted. Added to soil concerns were the ever present unpredictable nature of hurricanes, and unlucky seasons, which saw even good years in agricultural production swept away by the winds.
As the Bahamas’ population grew, less and less people took to farming as a life profession. The knock on effect was that food imports rose sharply. By the late 1800s, the Bahamas was importing meats, chicken, staple food products like flour, lard, cooking oil, rice and sugar, as well as the things we had once exported, like fruits and vegetables.
With no income tax and government revenues heavily dependent on import duties, the cost of food became a significant burden for Bahamians, but a boom for the government coffers.
Successive Bahamas governments became caught in the proverbial Catch 22.
Encouraging domestic agriculture would mean a decrease in imports. This translated into a potential decrease in import duties and government revenues. But jobs and industries created with agriculture were vital to national development and food stocks.
However, agriculture, especially for the negro population was a poor man’s profession. The old generation didn’t want to see the new generation digging in the dirt for a living. Farming was discouraged to make way for professional careers for a new generation of Bahamians.
By 1953, for one island, the dream of agricultural development was over.
As the brief statement alludes to, the project was uneconomical. It could have been the fickle soil, the weather, the changing attitudes of Bahamians toward farming or it could have been the local government push toward the more lucrative industry of tourism which ended the Andros agricultural development plan.