Government looks to increase amount of land for farming use
An effort to turn more of Bermuda’s arable land to farming is to be aided by hi-tech equipment, Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, said yesterday.
Mr Roban, who is also the Deputy Premier, said that a geographic information system is being deployed to identify suitable parts of the island not being used to grow food.
The move comes as Mr Roban said the Government would come down harder on non-registered roadside sellers of produce and so-called “night farmers” — people who steal crops when it is dark.
Mobile cameras are being piloted in different places around the island and could be made available to farmers to help to catch produce thieves, Mr Roban said.
The minister told a news conference: “Land, a critical component, is at a premium. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources will complete the GIS-based arable audit to identify opportunities for new production fields.
“We anticipate having the resources to support this critical work in the first quarter of 2023.
“The pandemic and war in Ukraine have shown us that small island communities, like Bermuda, can be significantly impacted by external supply-chain issues resulting in higher costs and an overall reduction in the quality, quantity and availability of essential food products.
“Coupled with ongoing problems experienced by local agriculture, these challenges have put significant pressure on our food producers.
“These issues include the loss of growing areas with land now being used for more lucrative developments, reduced interest in traditional farming and an ageing sector.
“Additionally, our local agriculture must contend with the high production costs versus cheaper imports, a product of the vast global food industry.
“Currently, only around 750 acres are zoned agricultural, and we only farm a fraction of that, estimated to be about 350 acres.
“The Government recognises it can do more to offset the local and international pressures impacting our local farmers, which is why the Ministry of Home Affairs, in partnership with the Ministry of Economy and Labour, is currently developing an integrated agriculture strategy.”
Mr Roban signalled harsher penalties for unregistered people selling foodstuff at the roadside, and thieves who plunder fields of produce.
He said the Government would amend laws to “correctly identify commercial farmers who sell goods along Bermuda’s roadsides and strengthen penalties for those who participate in ‘night farming’.”
He added: “Local farmers have highlighted the theft of produce as a severe problem.
“The Government takes a zero-tolerance approach to this problem, termed 'night farming', as it seriously cuts into the earnings of local farmers. It also increases the price of produce to the honest consumer.
“The department is currently piloting mobile camera technology at different sites and will provide this to farmers who need it.
“Subject to budgetary approvals, a replacement Agriculture Service Centre and critical equipment and infrastructure will be developed to support increased local production, particularly the storage of locally produced food.”