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OBA questions key PLP proposals to boost flagging economy

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Efforts to kick-start the economy through new industries have been questioned by the Opposition.

The Government wants to establish vertical farming in Bermuda. (File photograph)

Senator Marcus Jones, the One Bermuda Alliance spokesman on economic development, said farmers and fishermen should be drafted in to help set up a vertical farm and a shoreline fishery, rather than bring in outside expertise.

Wayne Furbert, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, said in 2020 that the Government was “finalising” the plans for the development and financing of a purpose-built vertical farm after work with AeroFarms, a US-based company, the previous year.

He added that plans would go to Cabinet in November 2020.

Mr Furbert said at the same time that $370,000 had been allocated in the 2019-20 Budget to set up a shoreline fishing farm.

But more than a year later both projects appear to have stalled.

The Government has failed to give details of progress on either project despite repeated requests for updates.

More questions than answers: Marcus Jones, the OBA spokesman on economic development (File photograph)

Mr Jones said the OBA would support any attempt to stimulate economic activity and job creation.

But he added: “Any efforts to inject seed money into an industry must be first backed up with adequate consultation with established local and international businesses.”

Mr Jones asked: “Is the priority for the Government job creation or filling the gap that the existing farming and fishing industries do not satisfy?

“Has the Government done the necessary calculations to determine the selling price of the end product to see if there will be cost savings for the consumer?

“Has the Government considered utilising existing industries and integrating these new technologies rather than starting new businesses?

“Will new businesses created by these initiatives be set up as direct competition to the farmers and fishermen who are presently faced with ever-increasing costs in operations, a lack of a local workforce and the challenges of supply in materials caused by the pandemic?”

Mr Jones said: “Why not challenge small and mid-size businesses to submit a business plan to merge these initiatives with their existing operations rather than have one winner commit to several businesses and allocate funds to each?

“If the project is best suited for one enterprise, solicit the input of several proprietors into one co-operative effort.

“We recognise that there will be a few within each of these industries that will be set against any new technology being introduced. But those critics aside, are there any obstacles to the Government's plans that need to be addressed from these established businesses that they would be wise to consider?”

The Royal Gazette again put questions to the Government about progress on the vertical farm and fishery.

A spokeswoman replied: “The Government has implemented its economic recovery plan, which is well under way.

“Bermuda’s ERP has 31 priority projects in seven broad categories. The vertical farming and the shoreside facility are projects that fall under Theme 1 — economic diversification, and Theme 3 — infrastructure development of the plan, respectively.

“The Government continues its work to advance these and other projects, and discussions with all partners and stakeholders continue.”

The spokeswoman did not respond to questions on the schedules for the two new ventures.

The Royal Gazette has also made several attempts to contact AeroFarms, a New Jersey indoor agriculture company, but the company has not responded to requests for comment.

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Published January 10, 2022 at 7:53 am (Updated January 10, 2022 at 7:43 am)

OBA questions key PLP proposals to boost flagging economy

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