The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation and Agriculture (IICA) held a one-day seminar at Geneva’s Restaurant on Wednesday to ensure the agricultural stakeholders are kept abreast of the country’s Food Safety Acts that were passed last year.
Shacara Lightbourne, National Technical Specialist for IICA explained to this daily that the organization’s goal is to give technical assistance to all of their members in the agricultural sector.
“We give support from the government level, through private and on to the lower levels. We are offering training based on the new acts that were passed in the country last year,” Lightbourne said.
In July 2016, Lightbourne shared four new acts were put in to place with an aim of allowing The Bahamas to join every other country in the region as members of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The acts Lightbourne was referring to are: the Food Safety and Quality Act, the Plant Health Act, the Animal Health Act and the Bahamas Agriculture Health and Food Safety Agency Act.
Lightbourne added that the one-day seminar focused on food safety at the farm level. The technical specialist gave examples of why it is important to ensure those producing and selling food items are aware of diseases like E-coli, which can be deadly.
“If the staff are not trained, if there is no bathroom on the farm it is a concern, so we are attempting to make sure our foods are safe from the farm to the plate and stakeholders educated in that respect,” Lightbourne stated.
The IICA technical specialist noted that as a country it is essential stakeholders learn to comply with the rest of the world and staging the seminar was imperative so that the farmers are cognizant of what is required. “This seminar is basically a heads up before they (farmers and producers) are forced to comply,” Lightbourne added.
“Dr. Marco Sanchez was hired to draft the country’s food safety regulations, and we are very fortunate to have him presenting here today. He will be speaking about good agricultural practices.
“He is here to assist in the effort to get the country ready to join the WTO. We haven’t paid much attention to agriculture in the past, and we need to bring our agriculture system up to par. It will take a time but we will get there, step-by-step,” Lightbourne noted.
Dr. Sanchez, who is a Professor at Texas Technical University, shared with this daily that he is working with IICA on this training program and the new regulations on food safety The Bahamas Government implemented last year.
“I am educating those attending on good agriculture practices, mainly on farms. It is a one-day review on what are the potential contaminations of fruits and vegetables – primary production foods,” Sanchez stated.
Emphasizing that presently there are 170 member countries in the WTO and The Bahamas is the only one in the Caribbean that is not, Sanchez explained the benefits. “The WTO provides rules to export and import foods, and to belong, a country must have regulations on how foods are produced, packaged and distributed. Presently in The Bahamas right now anything can get in and with the regulations it will allow for more vigilance and as a result a safer product. The WTO provides new markets for their member countries and thus more profit,” Sanchez pointed out.
The professor went on to say that anytime new regulations are implemented there is opposition, and safety does cost money but stressed that safe and healthy produce is a must.
In concluding, Sanchez said that with the country being made up of a chain of islands there is the potential for considerable logistics problems; however, as he is presenting his seminars on different islands in The Bahamas he is learning, through feedback of their island’s specific needs.
Michael Flowers, Agriculture Assistant Officer at the Department of Agriculture attended the one-day seminar and shared that it is very important to keep up-to-date with the regulations and best practices. “It is good to know the do’s and don’ts of what is happening in agriculture in the country and Dr. Sanchez has guided us through today,” Flowers said.
The Agriculture Assistant Officer also spoke of the need to create an awareness of why it is important to produce our own food rather than be so reliant on other countries.
Published Thursday, February 16, 2017