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International buyers desire authentic Pacific products, says expert - Pacific Island News Association

Published on October 8, 2014

International buying trends means local farmers and producers can add value to raw products and brand them with authentic stories like never before.

That's one of the key insights presented by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture representative Ena Harvey at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture in Suriname this week.

"Trends such as local and regional sourcing, green and blue investments, adaptation to climate change, and demands from tourism for authenticity, green, Fair Trade, natural, healthy .... all fuel the need for a value-chain approach."

Speaking at the value chain development workshop, Harvey says value chain management is now allowing farmers to turn the traditional production and trade paradigm on its head.

"Instead of exporting the raw material and buying back the value added products, we now keep the value added in our countries. In this way we validate our traditions and patrimony, build entrepreneurship, and generate much needed foreign exchange.

"We need to take the FUBU approach – For us, by us."

Harvey cited the example of laplap, an indigenous dish from Vanuatu that used local ingredients and was sold at the local markets.

Vanuatu Minister of Agriculture David Tosul responded saying laplap demonstrated the value chain by using local knowledge and produce, food processing and taking them to the market.

Vanuatu is planning to host the first ever Pacific Week of Agriculture next year and Tosul is in Suriname to seek ideas on content, best practice and logistics.

The Technical Centre for Rural and Agricultural Co-operation (CTA), which helped fund the value chain workshop, has been collecting case studies in the Caribbean and Pacific. In July, it launched a new publication called Developing Sustainable, Green and Inclusive Agriculture Value Chains in the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands.

CTA director Dr Michael Hailu says the organisation this year held a value-chain financing conference in Kenya for the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific regions. "We created a forum to bring together stakeholders to look at how to make it easier for farmers to access finance through commercial banks, central banks, farmer organisations and through government guarantee schemes."

CTA is also working with tertiary institutions to integrate agribusiness into their agricultural curriculum.

The Suriname value chain workshop explored mapping, branding and financing, as well as case studies from the region that included cassava; small ruminants; herbs, spice and condiments; and agro-tourism.

During the mapping session, Women in Business Development (Samoa) media specialist Faumuina Felolini Tafunai commented that value-chain management is not just about creating economic efficiencies but also human efficiencies.

"We want to also see farmers, especially small-holder farmers, involved in all aspects of production from the planting and harvesting to the processing and packaging. That way farmers will own more of the value chain."

Tafunai's comment references an approach promoted by Jethro Green from the Caribbean Farmers Network.

The herbs, spice and condiments case study was presented by Vassel Stewart, who showed that these crops and products were in high demand as food, medicine, cosmetics and as landscaping and decorations.

Vassel says it was a priority industry with a US$200 billion international market and 5-7 per cent annual growth.

He says the Caribbean has a global advantage with the region being a world leader in high quality ginger, hot pepper, pimento, nutmeg and vetiver. Another advantage was the crops were suited for small-holder farmers.

The US market driver for medicinal herbs included heart health being the top seller, mental sharpness, cancer, vision, skin appearance, arthritis, and joint health.

Harvey spoke on agrotourism and highlighted different commercial elements including "Farm to Table", which links small-holder farmers to hotels and restaurants, host home accommodation, indigenous cuisine, nature trails and trips.

Tourists want experiences "beyond sun, sea and sand" and "agro tourism represents the best opportunity for replicating small experiences into value chain experiences," says Harvey.

IICA had already started a food tourism strategy that included videoing indigenous cuisine being cooked by local people.

By example, El Sendero Cacao in the Dominican Republic hold cacao tours that include hot chocolate tasting, planting a cacao tree, harvesting, cutting and fermenting and lunch.

Harvey says people want authentic old time foods to take back with then and you cannot replicate these foods with imported foods.

The United Nations World Tourism Organisation's Global Report on Food Tourism says more than a third of tourist spending is devoted to food and cuisine is an aspect of "utmost importance in the quality of the holiday experience".

Harvey says agrotourism created employment, brought communities closer together and also attracted youth.

Gaps in the industry were also identified including trade linkages, inter-regional barriers, lack of investment in the agro-industry, and skills development

Written by Pita Ligaiula in Paramaribo, Suriname