Markets and Value Chains

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Win-win-win for farmers, the hospitality industry and tourists

Linking agriculture and tourism

June 30, 2015

Tourism is the lifeblood of many tropical island economies. In 2012, tourism accounted for 27% of gross domestic product (GDP) in Jamaica, 39% in Saint Lucia and in Barbados, 48% in The Bahamas, and 77% in Antigua and Barbuda, to name but a few.  

But in many cases, few of the benefits accrue to the local economy, and this is especially true of the agricultural sector. “In tourist restaurants in the Pacific islands, you can find Japanese food, Italian food, French food – but no island dishes,” said Samson Vilvilfare, a Vanuatuan working at CTA.

Solo360This is contributing to declining interest in traditional foods among island people – if it is not good enough for the tourists, the thinking goes, it is not good enough for us. And this in turn is eroding markets for local farmers and debasing the diet, with all the health consequences that go with it.

What if we could connect hotels, restaurants and tourism industry with local cuisine? 

The opportunities for farmers, food processers and others in the local agri-food value chains would be huge.

Chefs are a critical part of the demand side of the value chain. They can influence the eating habits of both locals and visitors and create markets for local products while promoting the regional cuisine. But in many parts of the world there are few if any chefs trained in local cuisines using traditional products.

Robert Oliver, a celebrity chef from New Zealand has been working to rectify this situation with considerable success in Fiji and Samoa in the Pacific and “farm to table” resorts in the Caribbean, building structured supply lines from producers to hotels. His work, and his award-winning recipe books, have helped create a network of up-and-coming young chefs who are reconnecting with their food heritage and attracting a new type of tourist – foodie travellers. This is a small but growing group of travellers whose choice of destination and holiday activities is influenced by their interest in food, as demonstrated by a recent review of the food tourism market by the Caribbean Tourism Organisation. This type of traveler tends to be better educated and more affluent than the average package tourist, and represents a key business opportunity for the agricultural sector working in conjunction with the tourism sector. They offer exciting opportunities for development of ‘new’ dishes based on traditional recipes and local produce and for creation of new revenue streams in the agritourism sector.

Offering a wider range of experiences to tourists

The Belmont Estate in Grenada is a glowing example of such an enterprise. The family-owned estate has transitioned from being ‘traditional’ agricultural estate producing cocoa, nutmeg and banana to a diversified agriculture-based tourism operation, offering visitors opportunities to participate in tours (organic farm gardens, heritage museums, cocoa production and processing) and experience traditional local cuisine in its own high-class restaurant. In addition to its original crops, it now produces a range of spices that it markets under its own brand, as well as fruits and vegetables and value-added products such as fruit juices, conserves, condiments and processed foods. The estate has also developed a strategic partnership with the River Antoine Estate, which produces and markets its own brand of rum and which is branching out into the agritourism market. Together, they are able to offer a wider range of experiences to tourists and are building links with Grenada’s tourist industry.

The mass-market tourism sector still represents the largest market in terms of volume, and one that local agriculture must adapt to cater to. But catering to this market is not easy. Hotels and restaurants need reliable supply chains that can deliver consistent quantities of quality produce as and when needed. Relying on local producers also implies adopting seasonal menus, something that large hotel and restaurant chains are not used to.

Small-scale farmers are not in a position to meet the needs of larger hotels and restaurants, and this is where bodies like the Caribbean Farmers’ Network (CaFAN) come to the fore. “We have proved that when small farmers are clustered into groups we can meet these demands,” said Jethro Greene, CaFAN's Chief Coordinator. “At the end of the day, the only way that small farmers can increase their profitability is by owning a lot of the value chain – it is not going to be done by them as an individual, but as part of a group they become very powerful,” he concluded.

Building the systems to connect small-scale farmers to the large markets and opportunities presented by the tourism sector will not be easy or straightforward, but the potential benefits call on us to give it our best efforts. The Pacific Community Agritourism Week this week in Fiji is showcasing many approaches and successful ventures in this sector. The outcomes could make all the difference to the future of smallholder farming across the Pacific.

Learn more 

Read the latest blogs from the Pacific Community Agritourism Week

Photo Credit © Solomoni Matthewsella, 2015