An Acklins co-operative is to receive more than 100 crown land acres to facilitate a $1.4m “game changer” in developing a cascarilla industry in The Bahamas.

Michael Pintard, minister of agriculture and marine resources, yesterday said the Prime Minister’s Office has approved the grant of 105 acres in the Selvyn Hill, and a further five acres in Spring Point, to the Acklins Islanders Cooperative Society Ltd (AICS). The land will be used to grow cascarilla trees and the construction of a processing plant to turn their bark into finished product.

The crown land grants support what Mr Pintard referred to as the Pine Islands Pilot Project. He said: “The research elements of industrialisation of cascarilla are being funded through the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Pine Islands, forest and mangrove innovation and integration programme.

“This programme combines the GEF, along with cash contributions from the Government of The Bahamas and in kind contributions from our agencies. The pro rata share of the funds for pilot two of the programme, cascarilla bark cultivation and processing of cascarilla oil, and under component three ‘sustainable livelihood’, is roughly $1.41m. This amount includes $422,000 cash from the GEF, $200,000 cash from The Bahamas government and $792,000 of ‘in kind’ contributions from our stakeholders.

The project is a multi-agency effort between the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources; the Bahamas Agricultural and Industrial Corporation (BAIC) as executing agency charged with managing the effort; the Department of Forestry; the Department of Cooperatives; the BEST Commission; Bahamas Development Bank; the Bahamas Agricultural and Marine Sciences Institute (BAMSI); AICS and the Caribbean Agriculture and Research Development Institute (CARDI).

Dr Michele Singh, CARDI’s representative in The Bahamas, said it was vital that Acklins have in place a management plan to protect the cascarilla resource from over-harvesting.

She added: “CARDI has provided continued technical support for the implementation of this project. Baseline data collected by CARDI on the socioeconomic background of persons showed that more than 87 percent of persons on the island of Acklins are dependent on the cascarilla industry for their livelihoods.”

As a result of this dependency, Dr Singh said CARDI has “co-ordinated the training of five persons in oil extraction”. She acknowledged that Bahamian farmers are currently not getting any “value added” from the processing of cascarilla, which the project is intended to change.

Cascarilla oil is used for the perfume market primarily, said Garnell Pelecanos, strategic advisor to the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources. She added that this is the main cascarilla byproduct that the project is focusing on as it can yield Bahamian processors “100 times more than what they are getting for the bark”.