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Vertical farming idea shows Government has ‘sense of superiority’ – OBA

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Jarion Richardson (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The opposition One Bermuda Alliance has criticised the Government for failing to listen to farmers before moving ahead with plans to develop a vertical farming industry on the island.

The project – a key pillar in the Government’s Economic Recovery Plan – was put on pause after the US company brought in to spearhead the project reported huge losses.

Earlier this year, the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation went into partnership with Florida based firm Kalera to set up a Bermuda subsidiary. The Government had spent the previous three years developing the plan – despite warnings from island experts that it was not feasible.

Yesterday, Jarion Richardson, the deputy leader of the OBA, accused the Government of having a superiority complex.

Mr Richardson said: “Economic recovery is too important to rely on ideas like vertical farming.

“It’s clear that even if the idea were feasible – which has never been shown – its impact on the economy would be minimal. In other words, it wouldn’t change the lives of Bermudians for the better.

“And the insistence of Government to pursue an idea not supported by any on-island experts shows both the unwillingness to listen and sense of superiority the Government feels.

"We have an agriculture sector of the economy run by farmers who know all the critical information – what grows when, how, what kind of fertiliser, how much water it takes.

“And we have huge portions of our arable land sitting unused during a cost-of-living crisis when food costs are one of the key pain points.

“It’s disconcerting that the generational farmers, with all their experience and knowledge, were ignored in favour of the overseas for-profit company.

“Perhaps most damning was that this idea, both feeble and impractical, was key to the Government’s economic recovery plan.

“It’s worth considering that maybe what’s needed to fix our problems isn’t flashy and glitzy, but rather technical and unentertaining. And it can start with how we feed ourselves."

Questions blocked in Senate

One Bermuda Alliance senator Douglas De Couto submitted three questions concerning the vertical farming initiative to the Senate last week – before the announcement that it had been put on hold was made.

Arianna Hodgson, the Junior Minister for the Economy and Labour, was expected to provide verbal answers during yesterday’s Senate session.

Mr De Couto had asked what types and quantity of produce could be grown in vertical farms. He also asked for a detailed breakdown of how much the investment would cost the Government.

When Joan Dillas-Wright, the Senate president, invited the Government to give answers, Senate Leader Owen Darrell replied: “I’m requesting if these questions that were put forward by senator DeCouto please be deferred to a later date. You would note that they may not be relevant at this time.”

But Mr De Couto disagreed, saying: “If anything I would suggest that the public interest will be even more served by the understanding that the Government was able to answer these questions and what their answers were, given that this highly promoted and oft-mentioned initiative seems to have fizzled out, and I think, one of our duties here …”

Mr Darrell interjected on a point of order, saying: “I simply ask that the questions – due to the no longer relevancy at this time – be deferred or revised to come back at a later time.”

Ms Dillas-Wright agreed. She said: “With the issue, I think we’re all aware that there is a matter relating to the source of these questions and so I am agreeing with the minister that the matter be deferred to a later time when such answers can be given.”

Yesterday the Bermuda Farmers Association said the organisation was “relieved” that the plan had been “paused”, but warned that the Government’s partnership with Kalera “must be stopped permanently”.

The spokesman said: “The BFA contends that any large scale capital venture such as the one proposed is unsuitable for Bermuda as it harms existing and new local farmers and growers.

“It is not economically viable due to high energy costs, and will not create employment. As said previously, this goes against the functions of the BEDC, which is to assist local businesses, not compete against them.”

“This better aligns with the goal of the BEDC who say they ‘remain committed to the ideals of creating better food security for all Bermudians and residents of Bermuda’.”

The spokesman added that the Government could also provide assistance to local growers in order to cut back on imports by “addressing the inadequacies and shortfalls within the Department of Environment and Natural Resources”.

According to the spokesman, the post of agronomist at the department has been persistently vacant while a marketing centre, which provides supplies to farmers, is also understaffed.

The Government could also help farmers overcome hurdles when importing plant materials.

The spokesman said: “In addition the BFA contends the Board of Agriculture as it exists does not adequately represent the farming industry as there are no commercial farmers on the board.

“The BFA calls for the board to be reappointed with 50 per cent of its members being working farmers who are the stakeholders.

“It is time for the Government to work in harmony with local farmers and growers so that together they can fulfil the Government's mandate to address food insecurity and increase food production in Bermuda.”

Jason Hayward the Minister for the Economy, has yet to issue a statement on last week’s news, despite repeated requests from The Royal Gazette.

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Published November 22, 2022 at 7:49 am (Updated November 22, 2022 at 7:49 am)

Vertical farming idea shows Government has ‘sense of superiority’ – OBA

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