Farming in Bermuda

13 July, 2018

Ministerial Statement by the Lt. Col. the Hon. David A. Burch, OBE (Mil), ED, JP, MP

Mr. Speaker, on July 18th, 2017, Bermuda experienced a change of Government.  

It was not unexpected, and so, this may sound to you like an unnecessary statement; but in order for all of us to understand what this means in terms of impact, I must start at the beginning.

The “beginning” is captured in the PLP’s Election Platform, there, we identified those things we wanted to accomplish during our term of office. 

For example we stated: 

“Your next PLP Government will make government more efficient by undertaking a comprehensive review of the Public Service Commission legislation.”  [Amendments to the Public Service Commission published just before Christmas 2016 changed the role of the Public Service Commission from an impartial appointing authority for senior civil servants to a politicized semi-executive body that will set performance goals for senior civil servants”.]
Mr. Speaker, what does this have to do with the role of senior civil servants? 
The civil service has an important role in readying themselves for a change whenever a General Election takes place.  Usually the Secretary to the Cabinet prepares two dossiers, explaining how they will accommodate each Party’s agenda.

Such preparation would allow a new Government, if there was a change, to be presented with a full outline of government projects currently underway, and of those still awaiting decision in each particular Ministry.  

This would enable a new Minister to determine how his/or her Ministry could accommodate the newly elected Government’s agenda.
Mr. Speaker, as you well know the relationship between Ministers and staff is unique – some would say peculiar. Ministers are not quite the same as private sector executives.  Their relationship with staff is predicated on staff members’ commitment to serving the Government of the day - no matter their own personal political views.

So it was earlier this year that I learned of a Bermudian Farmer whose lease had expired prior to the General Election in 2017.  Ministers would not naturally know about this lease, or any lease, until they are presented for signature because leases come under the remit of the Estates Department.
Mr. Speaker, the fact that the Bascome family were only told in May of this year that their lease had expired 17 months ago and they were then given six months, from 1 June 2018, to leave – raises all sorts of questions. 

It would be appropriate for me to investigate why the Bascome family were not told much earlier that their lease would be up in 2017 and it would also be appropriate for me to find out why they were being given a date to relocate.

Mr. Speaker, you will be quite familiar with the circumstances that have evolved over the last two weeks – so I’ll simply cut to the chase – and report on what is new.

I met this past Monday morning with the two Bascome brothers to discuss firsthand the situation surrounding their expired lease and their wishes going forward.  In that meeting which was both cordial and instructive – we discussed the potential development of the 9 Beaches property next door and their farming plans for the future.  We also discussed advances in farming technology to better manage the smell from cow manure and I offered and they accepted to meet with specialist technical officers in the Ministry who have some expertise in waste management and disposal.  That introduction has already occurred and a meeting is scheduled for this very afternoon.
Mr. Speaker, I indicated to them that this government would not displace them or cause their business to close and that I believed there was a way forward that required discussion with my Cabinet colleagues and that I would be in further communication following and we agreed to meet again.  

That discussion took place later on Monday and I am pleased to report that Government has taken the decision and instructed the Bermuda Land Development Company who have oversight of the 9 Beaches Property to inform - up front - to any potential developer that the farm will not be moved and its presence next door must be considered with any development.

Mr. Speaker, yesterday I informed Mr. Bascome III that the notice to quit had been cancelled and arranged to meet next week to discuss the way forward.

By the way, Mr. Speaker, the quotes being attributed to the Bermuda Farmers Association is a very strange position for them to take when our position on local agriculture, as stated in the PLP’s Platform was to:

Lease the many acres of government arable land that are currently not being used in order to boost domestic food production.” And to: 

Promote and develop community gardens that can assist in meeting the needs of the less fortunate in our community.”

If this sounds to you, Mr. Speaker, like a plan to encourage more Bermudians to get into farming - or to encourage more farmers to make use of government arable land – then you would be correct!

It’s kind of hard to push forward this agenda of encouraging farmers – when the daily paper is hell bent in trying its best to create negative front page news.  (Monday’s paper quotes the Bermuda Farmers Association as “urging the Government to ditch its plan to remove West End Farmers from their land…”.)  Having possession of copies of various statements confirming that plans for eviction were on hold – I guess it is too much to expect they would even attempt to correct any misconception.  Not to worry though, Mr. Speaker, everyday an increasing number of Bermudians are joining me in total disdain and mistrust of most things they print.

The PLP made a declaration of our concern for domestic food production long before anyone tried to make this an issue of dissent.

Mr. Speaker, like the Bascome family have done; the Bermuda Farmer’s Association are also welcome to come and meet with me, so that we can talk face-to-face. Their statement that “all government-owned farmlands had not been renewed over the last three years” was worthy of investigation.  

Mr. Speaker, I know that not to be the case as I have signed several leases over the last year.  During this time I have also approved the use of 1/3 of the Greenwich Farm to be used by the Cedarbridge Academy to teach farming to students and the remaining 2/3 to the Ministry of National Security for use in their Gang Intervention Programme.  

Government has 45 plots of arable land around the country – 13 appear to have expired leases and 2 are in dispute over ownership.  I have ordered a review of each of the 13 properties to determine the state of their leases.

I also agree with the statement by Carlos Amaral, Chairman of the Board of Agriculture, that “the problem with farmers leases needed examination” although I wonder out loud why it has taken 5 years for anyone to say anything?

Mr. Speaker, this Government has an extensive track record and lifelong philosophy to care for the people of this country and are always willing to find a solution to any problem.  My advice though is don’t try and communicate your message to us via any means other than directly to us.

We will not be deterred in our quest to improve the lives of every Bermudian and in spite of the constant chirping from the sidelines – we will pursue our agenda - resoundingly endorsed by a significant majority of the voters of this country.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.