Striving for a healthier future in our own backyard!
Face to Face by Felecity Darville
In a world where more and more people are getting sick and the cost of imports are steadily rising, the chairman of the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC), Bishop Gregory Anthony Collie, is calling on Bahamians to invest in farming as one of the keys to a healthier, wealthier future for the country.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had many effects, among them, a rise in cottage industry, as more people are becoming entrepreneurs and coming up with innovative ways to provide goods and services necessary for the “new normal”. In this way, BAIC should be considered one of the vital government agencies for people to connect with. It is mandated to stimulate, facilitate and encourage the development of agriculture in The Bahamas; to process the produce of agriculture, and to market the produce of agriculture within or outside the country. Bahamians seem to be responding well to the times. The produce exchange located at BAIC Headquarters on Old Trail Road, and the Farmer’s Market of Gladstone Road have seen a good increase in patrons looking for fresh, homegrown produce.
The next step, according to Bishop Collie, is for a major increase in Bahamians adopting the farming lifestyle as a means of self-sustenance. As for him, agriculture is “in the blood”. His maternal grandparents, Earnest Brice of Long Island and Beatrice Brice of Exuma. made their home in Mount Thompson, Exuma where they created a thriving onion farm. The young Gregory grew up with opportunities to spend time in Exuma with his grandparents, learning how to farm and appreciating the value of what can come from the ground.
In those days, he said, Exuma was the onion capital of The Bahamas, and many families grew onions on a scale large enough for export to the United States and other parts of the region. Back then, he said, different Bahamian islands would specialize in a specific agricultural product for export. Eleuthera was known for pineapples, for example, and Cat Island for tomatoes. He recalls learning that Sir Sidney Poitier’s parents, farmers from Cat Island, gained exposure to the United States because they were not only exporting tomatoes there, but visiting there as well.
Many opportunities abound from investing in agriculture, he said, and it would be good to see even more Bahamians take on the challenge to farm on a commercial level.
“Today, you don’t even have to spend all day in the sun to farm,” Bishop Collie urged.
“There are new, innovative and technologically advanced ways of farming including greenhouses, container farming and so much more. This allows you to provide more produce locally and even provide them outside of their regular season.”
As current chairman of BAIC, he said: “I love the challenge of helping to reduce The Bahamas’ import bill. There are so many things that we import that we can grow. In the past, we have paid a disservice to agriculture, but the recent pandemic has brought it home. It has given us all the time to reflect, and to consider how we would sustain ourselves in the event we could not import.”
He also has heritage from Acklins Island and there, a thriving cascarilla project – The Pine Islands Project – stands as a beacon of the kind of agricultural industry and commerce that can be repeated throughout the country.
His grandfather Theo Collie, and grandmother Anita Heastie, relied on the land and sea, enjoying the quintessential Bahamian lifestyle. His father, Henry Collie, was born in Morant Bay, Acklins, where he lived before moving to Nassau where he met Lean Brice, Gregory’s mother. Even though he grew up on Quintine Alley just off East Street, the values of his grandparents on both sides and their love for the land have inspired him to promote agriculture, which he continues to do today. His cousin Anita is one of those leading the charge for the Pine Islands Project in Acklins. He pointed out that major global companies like Campari and Mary Kay cosmetics rely on the cascarilla plant as one of the raw materials for their products. With the implementation of the project, Bishop Collie says Acklins Islanders will have an opportunity to create by-products instead of just selling the raw material, which they have done for decades.
On June 18 Agriculture and Marine Resources Minister Michael Pintard announced that the Government had approved the grant of 105 acres of land to the Acklins Islanders Cooperative Society to be used to grow cascarilla trees and to construct a processing plant for the extraction of essential cascarilla oil.
One hundred acres of the land is in Hard Hill and another five acres is located in Spring Point. This land acquisition is part of the component of the Pine Islands Project which is focused on “Sustainable Livelihoods” for cascarilla bark cultivation and processing of cascarilla oil in Acklins and Crooked Islands.
This is one of six activities in the cultivation and processing of the cascarilla bark in the “Development and Promotion of Sustainable harvesting of cascarilla” The Pine Islands Project is funded through the Global Environment Facility of the United Nations along with the Government of the Bahamas and in-kind contributions from various agencies.
Global Environment Facility of the United Nations along with the Government of the Bahamas and in-kind contributions from various agencies.
In addition to agriculture, industry is also a vital part of the BAIC mandate. The corporation seeks to assist in the creation and development of commerce and industry in The Bahamas; and to expand and create opportunities for Bahamians to participate in the economic development of the country. BAIC is a one-stop-shop agency, ready to assist small business persons with business plans, research, sourcing funding, business advice/counselling, implementation and follow-up. As an encouragement for the development of business in the Family Islands, start-up capital through small business window loans from The Bahamas Development Bank (BDB), The Bahamas Entrepreneurial Venture Fund, and the grant of Crown Land are available to Bahamians
Bishop Collie is encouraged by the Blue Project, presented by BAIC General Manager Rocky Nesbitt. The BLUE Project stands for: “Building a Lean Uniformed Economic Network”. The plan, amongst other things, includes the introduction of KPI software to ensure the corporation is able to track, analyze and create timely reports within the Agri-business and Industrial sectors. This part of the project is already underway.
The increase in entrepreneurship in The Bahamas is also encouraging for Bishop Collie, who took the same path in his youth and maintained a successful business for some time. After graduating from Highbury High, the young Gregory got a job in a company then known as the House of Sales.
He started out cleaning the floors at that company, and worked his way up to management. For some, that would have been good enough, but his ambitious drive and entrepreneurial spirit made him push all the way to owning one of their retail outlets. “You have to be focused and know what you want out of life,” he advised.
“Decide your goals and set your plan. As a young person, I did my best to stay out of bad company and away from negative influences. Your circumstances do not have to define your level of success. Look at where I grew up. Choose to stay focused on your dreams, and attach yourself to the right people. As a young person you have to be willing to take good advice from those who have made it where you want to go.”Bishop Gregory Collie
“Be teachable, be trainable, be diligent and stay focused.”
All while climbing up the ranks of the House of Sales, Gregory sought higher education. He earned an Associate of Arts in History, but he also took up studies in education as he was training to be a teacher.
After earning his degree at the College of The Bahamas, he eventually went on to earn a certificate of higher learning in Law from the University of Huddersfield, a certificate in Alternative Dispute Resolution from the University of Windsor, Canada, as well as a certificate in Paralegal Legal Studies from the Institute of Legal Executives.
With this experience, Bishop Collie served as President and Secretary of The Public Managers Union. He is also a former Assistant General Secretary of the Trade Union Congress, a member of the Bahamas Real Estate Association and he is a licensed Broker/ Appraiser. He is most notably the former Senior Manager of Compliance at the National Insurance Board, where he was employed for 26 years.
Bishop Collie is also a singer/songwriter and former lead vocalist of the ‘Soulmakers’ group. Although now defunct, the Soulmakers were once a hit, having travelled not only through The Bahamas, but also throughout the United States with a steady following.
Today, Bishop Collie, a husband, father and Justice of the Peace, is the Senior Pastor and Bishop of First Holiness Church of God, located in Bamboo Town and Young Husband Avenue, Freeport Grand Bahama.
This, he considers his highest calling, and one which allows him to inspire, encourage, and uplift lives through the word of God.