The dependency of the Bahamas on American food imports didn’t just begin in the 20th century, as some may think. By the time the 1900s unfolded, with its global economic depression and two world wars, the balance between exports and imports for the Bahamas, had tipped dramatically in America’s favour.
The country was already well on its to becoming an import dependent nation.
It was really in the 1800s, just after the demise of the plantations, when the Bahamas’ dependency on American food import began to rise sharply. Despite excellent national exports of salt, turtle shells, sponges, various types of woods, guano and fruits (oranges, grapefruit, banana and coconut), the Bahamas soon found itself importing essential breadbasket, staple food items.
As blockade running and rum running gave the country a taste of income levels that no amount of agricultural endeavour could counter, more and more Bahamians left the fields and livestock raising occupations. Our dependency on canned goods, meats and staple food items, like flour and corn, from America, only grew.
“The Bahamas, whose imports and exports rose so suddenly in 1863, owing to the establishment of Nassau as the depot for the blockade-runners both to and from the Secession States of America, have again added nearly one million to their values.”
(The Observer London, Sunday 30 July 1865)
In February 1878, a US trade delegation from the cotton producers of Memphis visited Nassau and Havana, Cuba to meet with government heads to discuss mutual trade.
When the delegation arrived in Nassau, they met with Governor, Sir William Robinson. In the following report, what is interesting, other than listing the total exports and imports of the Bahamas, is how they offer the idea of America reducing the import duty imposed on Bahamian fruits and salts. This would have the desired effect of inducing Bahamians to produce more, and this would in turn enable them to import more from America. What America gave up in import tax, they would more than recoup in what Bahamians would buy from their manufacturers.
(The Memphis Daily, Sunday, 3rd February 1878)
Over the next year, into 1879, trade had increased substantially between the Bahamas and America. The Bahamas was even importing cured fish which is surprising as the islands were surrounded by waters teeming with fish. Added to food imports now came shoes, clothing, and housewares.
(The Boston Post Friday 03, 1879)
Dependency on American imports became problematic as the population of the colony grew. As Bahamians invested less and less in homegrown manufacturing and agriculture, American trade influence grew. This trade imbalance was never more felt than in times of disaster, when various areas in The Bahamas, would be devastated by storms, as in the years 1898 and 1926. When Bimini and Abaco were cut off by hurricanes and with shipping severely disrupted, those islands were on the brink of starvation. And in 1974, when a mailboat missed a drop off to Acklins, the community of Salina Point was on the brink of starvation. The Bahamas’ dependency on American food and manufactured products, has expanded at an exponential rate, over the past 100 years.
1898 – BIMINI
(The Press Gazette, Tuesday 27 December 1898)
1926 – ABACO
(Miami News Tuesday 26 October 1926)
1974 – ACKLINS