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Virtual communities – online knowledge sharing to support agritourism

Studies reveal how digital platforms can build tourism led agribusiness linkages

March 1, 2016
  • Caribbean
  • Pacific

Two studies commissioned by CTA have revealed how online knowledge‑sharing platforms can support the development of tourism‑led agribusiness. The studies, based in the South Pacific and Caribbean regions, revealed keen local interest from agricultural and tourism sectors that would benefit from linkages created by a digital community.

Digital technology has brought many unrelated groups together in the virtual world, and recent studies have described how an online community could also bring together agriculture and tourism for a common business goal.

Tourism is an essential element in the economies of South Pacific and Caribbean countries and has potential for further strong growth. And while much attention has been given to using tourism to reduce poverty and pass the benefits to environmental and sustainability efforts, there is much that the agricultural sector – which is in great need of poverty-reduction efforts and environmental progress – can gain from an increasingly collaborative and harmonious relationship with the tourism sector.

Tourism-led agribusiness, known as agritourism, is a concept that is fast gathering international interest for its potential to drive growth in the agriculture sector and provide strong benefits in regions facing decline due to growing challenges in financing and production capacity.

With this in mind, CTA commissioned two studies by consultant Stéphane Boyera from SBC4D in 2015. The aim of the studies was to investigate the state of tourism led agribusiness and its development in the Caribbean and South Pacific regions, and make recommendations for ways that a knowledge platform could support its development. The studies focused on information and communications technology (ICT) and presented a list of key challenges and opportunities for developing a stronger agritourism movement.

"We don't just provide data alone, we need to provide Intelligence," said Vassel Stewart, CEO of the Caribbean Agribusiness Association (CABA).

Linking the sectors

Boyera noted that the tourism and agriculture sectors are unused to working together, leading to a gap that needs to be bridged before tourism led agribusiness can be fully developed. He also remarked that ministries and public organisations do not normally work together, which is a block to creating cross-cutting policies that benefit both sectors simultaneously.

Boyera found from interviews with various stakeholder groups that they all were keen to collaborate and explore joint opportunities in their regions as well as develop new initiatives. They recognised that tourism led agribusiness provides market opportunities for locally produced commodities and for smallholder farmers by tapping into the year round demand from hotels and restaurants.

Other benefits from agritourism initiatives include:

• easier access to fresh, locally grown products
• increased benefits to local economies by decreasing the import bill for foreign commodities
• a greater interest in farm based activities
• the promotion of traditional culture and cuisine.

Multiple activities aimed at developing the concept already exist, but all of them face challenges and large variances, and diversity within regions can make essential linkages difficult to build – although it is linkages that can overcome these challenges.

Linkages and information sharing are the key elements that will enable the agriculture and tourism sectors to work together to develop strong agritourism principles. And for these to exist, a community needs to be built where all stakeholders are part of a common network so that interactions and collaborations between different sectors can be built and explored.

The main benefit of such a community would be the ability to coordinate the many development activities across all stakeholders, and therefore prevent them from being conducted in silos. Groups, as a whole, can find inclusive models for action and collaboration across initiatives by becoming aware of what other stakeholders are doing.

Coming together online

Boyera proposed that an online knowledge platform be developed, based on this need for a community for collaborative action. The platform would enable all actors to connect and come together in a global group for the purpose of sharing and coordinating. This is the most efficient way to forge essential linkages.

Such a knowledge platform must be able to meet the needs of all key actors in the various stakeholder groups. The two categories that best describe their needs is demand-side and supply-side actors.

Defining stakeholders

The demand-side category incorporates hotels and restaurants, chefs and kitchen managers, tourism organisations, websites and information services, and accommodation suppliers. The focus in this category is to ensure that supply chains are reliable and able to deliver capacity. Dealing with the least number of providers possible while not introducing risk in terms of volume, quality and variety is important to hotels and restaurants.

Chefs and others involved in designing menus are important actors in agritourism as are the originators of local cuisine and traditional dishes. It is important to note that large international hotel and restaurant chains that require much larger quantities have less flexibility in choosing suppliers and are therefore less able to have an agritourism focus.

The other general tourism actors are key to marketing and promoting food-based tourism – a concept that has received little development to date.

In the supply-side category there are farmers and farmers' organisations, as well as agribusinesses such as processors, value-adding agents and traders or distributors. All of these actors stand to gain from an energised agritourism movement.

Platform of opportunities

The proposed knowledge platform would increase the collective knowledge about organisations working to strengthen the supply of agricultural products. It would also build a better understanding of the needs of businesses that require the supply of agricultural products.

Platform users would be able to discover market intelligence information on produce and its availability as well as the organisations capable of meeting demand. This would allow all actors to better work together for agritourism needs and gain increased confidence in the supply chain capacity and its ability to offset risks. An increased understanding of demand side requirements and yearly patterns would enable supply-side actors to plan production schedules better and create strategies to increase sales.

Users would also be able to participate in, and use, a directory of actors. This would enable those on the demand side to find and reach out to relevant supply-side actors and vice versa. A library function would also be a major benefit to the platform's users – it would enable access to valuable resources in documents, news, events, discussions, studies, research and similar resources.

Information on the potential for new initiatives and business opportunities would become available, as too would new data, research and studies to assist future development projects. And the platform would help bring chefs into the agritourism initiative by increasing awareness and supplying information on using local commodities.

Future potential

The platform could also develop to serve as a repository for links to other information sources and organisations working on agritourism initiatives. It could be used by external stakeholders such as donors and funders to identify organisations, activities, initiatives and projects to support, as well as identify where there are gaps to be addressed.

Once established, the platform could be opened up to the public for marketing and promoting tourism services, hotels, restaurants and chefs that are committed to the farm-to-fork concept. It could provide information to potential tourists and help to promote regional recipes and ingredients that visitors tasted during their stay.

"We need to fill gaps in data, not only through new research but also making more data open." Alisi Tuqa, programme manager of Pacific Island Private Sector Organisation (PIPSO).

In a second phase of the implementation the platform will use open data (data made freely available) to increase its relevance and potential. For open data to be successful it requires that those using the datasets also contribute properly formatted data to the project.

Resources

Stay connected

Follow @CTAflash on Twitter for regular updates and connect with Stéphane Boyera on Twitter at @stephb4d

Visit the website of the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition initiative (GODAN)