The platform was unveiled in the Cayman Islands, where the Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2016 opened on Wednesday.
Chefs for Development (Chefs4Dev) is an online community which uses chefs' role as ambassadors of local cuisine and teams them up with smallholder farmers and agro-processors who can supply quality products.
The aim is to increase revenues for smallholder producers and promote healthier, locally sourced agrifood products to households, hotels and restaurants in regions suffering from soaring food imports and high levels of diet related diseases. Tourism is a major source of income for the island states of all three regions, yet most visitors and domestic consumers are served food shipped in from other countries and cultures, much of it high in calories, sugar and salt.
In the Caribbean, up to 80% of the food consumed is imported. As a result, the region has some of the world's highest levels of non-communicable diseases and obesity rates. Eight out of ten countries with the world's worst rates of obesity are in the Pacific islands.
"Chefs for Development is an exciting initiative that brings chefs closer together with local producers," said Stéphane Gambier, Senior Programme Coordinator Communications at the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA). Stéphane Gambier is a member of the CTA group working on Chefs4Dev, together with partner organisations. "It's a way of highlighting the value of home produced fruits, vegetables and livestock products, as opposed to ones imported at great cost to national economies. Most of all, it's a question of restoring pride in local cuisine and improving people's health, as well as revenues for smallholder producers and agribusiness actors."
"We see chefs as advocates for food security," said Ena Harvey, Barbados Representative for the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), which was closely involved in the initiative.
"Culinary tourism is providing not only enjoyment for our visitors, but more importantly, rewarding opportunities for women, farmers and rural communities to achieve sustainable livelihoods and have a tangible and direct share in tourism revenues."
At his three restaurants on the island of St. Lucia, Caribbean chef Robert Skeete makes a point of serving dishes using local ingredients.
"Everything I cook is based on Caribbean products, so dasheen, yams and breadfruit instead of potatoes, as well as many foods people have never heard of," said Skeete, who appears on two television cooking shows and is a member of the Chefs for Development platform. "I go to the market seven days a week. I like to keep the money I earn in the hands of local farmers. It's my small contribution to keeping down the food import bill."
With support from CTA, the South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) is training chefs in Samoa to use ingredients they can source locally, linking hotels with local producers. SPTO and 4 young chefs from the Pacific are meeting the Caribbean chefs and the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) to exchange best practices and knowledge. CTA and partners work with celebrity chefs such as Robert Oliver in the Pacific and Peter Edey in the Caribbean to promote the regions as food tourism destinations.
"Up until now, most of the food available in hotels and restaurants in the Pacific has been imported," said Deepika Singh of SPTO. "We want to change that mindset and get chefs to incorporate local products in their cuisine. It's about trying to link the local agriculture sector with tourism, so as to reduce the leakage of foreign exchange."
The Chefs for Development platform www.chefs4dev.org offers resources, news, activities and information as a website and mobile app. It is coordinated by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), in partnership with many public and private partners such as the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation (PIPSO), the South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO), Women in Business Development Inc., farmer's organisations, agribusinesses and chefs.