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Island chefs push for local cuisine on tourist menus

For immediate release - Bridgetown, Barbados, 06 November 2015

Chefs can play an important role in helping small-scale farmers to supply the hospitality trade in small island developing states (SIDS). By offering menus based on local cuisine instead of imported dishes, they can drive demand for home-grown ingredients sourced from local producers. A session on the second and final day of the 2nd Caribbean Agribusiness Forum being held in Bridgetown, Barbados has heard that agritourism offers good opportunities for smallholder farmers. But they will need support in upgrading their supply chains to hotels, resorts and supermarkets, producing timely and reliable deliveries of quality products.

Chefs from the Caribbean, Pacific and Indian Ocean have been sharing experiences about ways of forging closer links between agriculture and tourism. Using local produce in more creative ways, they can do much to encourage demand for indigenous crops, livestock and fish products. As a result, high import bills should decline, public health will improve and small-scale producers will have greater income generating opportunities.

A panel held during today's Forum sessions on the Chefs for Development platform launched by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and partners in July 2015 examined pathways for tapping the potential of the tourism trade in small island countries. The Chefs for Development platform is seeking to bring chefs and farmers together to increase smallholder revenues and develop the food tourism sector. Currently, the hospitality trade in many small island countries is dominated by western menus, based on imported foodstuffs, bypassing local producers and agri-processors.

"The food tourism industry is a major economic sector worldwide and offers great opportunities for the Caribbean, Pacific and Indian Ocean," said Isolina Boto, Manager of the CTA Brussels Office and project leader for regional trade. "There is a need to upgrade farmers' supply chains to larger hotels and resorts and stimulate demand of local products and its use by chefs, who can promote ways to more creatively utilise local produce by the hospitality sector and promote local cuisine."

"The Pacific has tended not to put its own cuisine forward, and the situation is similar in the Caribbean," said celebrity television Pacific chef Robert Oliver, who is a strong advocate of using local products in Pacific cuisine and a leading member of the Chefs for Development platform. "Yet 50 per cent of all tourists make their choices based on food and 30 per cent of the money they spend is on food."

Highlighting the similarities between Caribbean and Pacific islands, Oliver, who has worked in both regions, said opportunities were being missed to tap the tourist market. "In all SIDS, without exception, a large industry is tourism and agriculture, so if tourism is connected to agriculture, you have an opportunity for farmers to supply hotels. It's a missed opportunity in most cases," he said. "In the Caribbean and Pacific there's a similar picture because lots of food is imported for tourism. Chefs have a big role to play in the economies of countries, when tourism is the biggest industry and farmers are often in poverty."

Support needed for farmers includes education, access to finance and better infrastructure, experts meeting at the 2nd Caribbean Agribusiness Forum agreed. "Infrastructure, such as storage facilities, is also crucial to enable farmers to provide consistent supplies," said Vassel Stewart, President of the Caribbean Agribusiness Association (CABA). Grouping farmers together into producers' organisations or cooperatives will be critical to ensuring that hotels and supermarkets can expect regular volumes of high quality food products.

Although the Caribbean has larger volumes of tourists than any other region in the world – with 40 million visitors a year – the Pacific has a valuable model in the Women in Business Development (WIBDI). This Samoa-based network of 1000 organic family farms, which receives support from CTA, now supplies ten large hotels in the country, as well as a number of restaurants.

One of its regular customers is Dora Rossi, chef and owner of Paddles restaurant in Samoa. She makes a point of shopping at the market every day and handpicking local produce, including products from WIBDI. "We encompass as many organic and local dishes as possible. I like to support the local economy," she said. "It's our identity as Samoans. Tourists want to eat okra, fish and coconut cream. They want to have what we have."

Ena Harvey, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) representative for Barbados and agritourism specialist, said that there was an urgent need to make stronger connections between agriculture, the agri-processing sector and the tourism industry. "We need to offer our tourists authentic, local, nutritious, healthy food and to give them a taste of the Caribbean and have that taste of the Caribbean reflect into business for farmers and agri-processors along the value chain," she said. "It's not happening enough. The agritourism linkage is one of the most direct ways to impact poverty. It means that a farming family can stay on the land, a farmer can stay in agriculture, revenues increase and there are employment opportunities for women and young people. There is a multiplier effect."

The 2nd Caribbean Agribusiness Forum, being held as part of the Caribbean-Pacific Agri-Food Forum, which opened on November 2 and closes today November 6, is organised by CTA, CABA and IICA, in collaboration with the Barbados Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management and the Barbados Tourism Product Authority (BTPA). The Caribbean-Pacific Agri-Food Forum is funded by the European Union through the Intra-ACP Agricultural Policy Programme.

For more information, please contact:
Stéphane Gambier, Senior Programme Coordinator Communications (CTA)
gambier@cta.int
Tel.: +31 (0)317 46 71 79

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