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From farm to fork

by Nolana Lynch, Trinidad Express, 31 Oct 2016

October 31, 2016

One of the major thrusts at this year's Caribbean Week of Agriculture is "From Farm to Fork" – harvesting fresh produce to create an amazing culinary experience. The culinary sector holds a significant role in sustainable and profitable enterprises in the agricultural value chain.

In light of this, the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Co-operation (CTA) and the Inter-American Institute for Co-operation on Agriculture (IICA) partnered with many chefs throughout the Caribbean region, bringing them to the Cayman Islands for the launch of the Chefs for Development Platform on October 25.

D Kurt Tibbetts, minister of planning, land, agriculture, housing and infrastructure of the Cayman Islands, discussed the importance of investment in food and agriculture in the Caribbean region. "Agriculture needs sustained investment to flourish innovatively," he said.

"We must focus on creating an environment that is attractive to investors, with quality food and agriculture and stimulate economic growth in the region."

At present, 80 per cent of the food we eat in the Caribbean region is imported, according to Dr Fletcher-Paul, UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) coordinator for the Caribbean region. Our current food import bill stands at US$5 billion. We, in fact, have a crisis on our hands, where we have been blessed with rich agricultural soil and land space, and a tropical climate conducive to the development of exotic produce, but we choose to import so much food. We need to expand the agricultural sector.

The private sector plays a key role in agriculture. Farmers are undeniably the number one investors in agriculture and determine the quality of food we eat. I have always been an advocate for sustainable agricultural practices.

I can attest to the drastic difference when a meal is prepared from fresh herbs, spices, vegetables and produce. Dr Michael Hailu, Director of the CTA, emphasised that, "Chefs and culinary professionals have a unique role to play in agricultural development: they connect local producers and consumers and understand food origin and history".

Chefs have the opportunity to promote local cuisine and provide consumers and tourists with the best local offerings. The hospitality and culinary sector also offers significant economic and employment opportunities globally.

The CTA and IICA are working with celebrity chefs from the Caribbean and the Pacific, and have launched an exciting Chefs for Development Platform. This programme supports the training of inter-regional chefs on the use and promotion of local and indigenous ingredients to create amazing culinary dishes.

In the culinary meetings held at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture, the question was asked, "Why are hotels still serving temperate fruits imported from Florida at breakfast buffets throughout the region?"

We should indeed be encouraging local fruits at breakfast buffets including, but not limited to, mango, papaya, cherries, pommerac, avocado, mamisiporte, cashew, cerise and passion fruit.

We should be engaging local farmers when sourcing produce for meals in Caribbean hotels and restaurants. There is a large market for Caribbean cuisine globally. We have so much to offer in the region. Trinidad and Tobago alone is has a diverse culinary offering. We must take pride in our local produce and culinary creations.

Chef Peter Edey of the Dining Club Group of Companies in Barbados developed the Junior Duelling Challenge 12 years ago because there was no one willing to work as a chef cooking local food in his restaurants. As a result, he re-introduced youth to local food, local produce and preparing local dishes to develop interest in Barbadian culinary arts.

This movement has created a new group of culinarians with a keen interest in genuinely Caribbean food. Eighty per cent of everything used in the Barbadian challenge was Barbadian grown food. This was developed into a television programme which aired throughout the region and North America.

Eventually chefs throughout the Caribbean region wanted their youth involved. This developed into the Caribbean Junior Duelling Challenge, an Annual Caribbean Culinary Conference and the Caribbean Cuisine Culinary Institute.

With progressive chefs like Peter Edey, Caribbean Culinary Arts is in good hands. I can't wait for this culinary challenge to be launched in Trinidad and Tobago.