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Agritourism – a driver for rural incomes in Pacific island states

Day 3: New opportunities in the agrotourism sector in the Pacific (workshop)

October 20, 2017

The full potential for agritourism – a combined strategy linking agriculture and tourism – has yet to be tapped in many Pacific countries, according to speakers at a workshop organised during the Pacific Week of Agriculture (PWA). Strong growth in tourism offers valuable opportunities for the local industries and rural communities in Pacific Small Island Developing States.

The event, New Opportunities in the Agritourism Sector in the Pacific, was organised by the the Vanuatu Government, the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation (PIPSO), the South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), to share lessons learned, examine progress made in serving tourism markets in a number of Pacific countries and assess results of previous support from the organisers to the agritourism sector in the region. Overall, more needs to be done to connect farmers, fishers and other rural actors to  market openings offered by tourism and the hospitality trade, the meeting heard. 

“A lot of tourists are looking for an authentic experience that teaches them about the culture they are visiting,” said Chris Cocker, Chief Executive Officer of SPTO, which is urging greater innovation in using local products in the tourism sector, and less reliance on imported goods.

The Pacific region is undergoing rapid growth as a tourist destination, with an annual rise of 4.3 percent over the past six years and 2 million visitors in 2016. Between 25 and 35 percent of tourist expenditure is on food and a significant increase in number of local cruises. Since 2014, CTA, PIPSO and partners have been working to highlight the scope for harnessing tourist markets to provide revenues for local farmers and value chain actors in the region.

“The linkage between agriculture and tourism can open up new market opportunities, and serve as a chance for farmers and fishers to showcase their culture,” said Ron Hartman, IFAD Country Director for Indonesia and the Pacific.

Progress on developing agritourism in the Pacific has been identified as a priority to support the local agrifood and tourism industries. In Vanuatu, a survey revealed that 60 percent of food consumed by tourists is imported, all of which could have been produced in-country. Outlining a strategy to ensure that even remote island communities could access tourist revenues, the Acting Director General for Agriculture, Benjamin Shing said it would be a mistake to miss such a valuable opportunity.

“With the advent of tourism in Vanuatu we noticed that a lot of the food eaten is actually imported from outside,” he said. “That has a boomerang effect on the tourist dollar.”

Erratic produce quality and quantity remain key hurdles to overcome, so that Pacific hotels and restaurants have greater incentives to source food products locally, including those from the fisheries sector.  “Agritourism and the promotion of using local produce can also be a catalyst to promote agrinutrition for local communities, particularly those engaged/connected in some way to the agritourism sector.,”  said Alisi Tuqa, Acting Chief Executive Officer, PIPSO. 

Despite the challenges, a number of promising approaches are being developed in an effort to forge stronger links between these two important sectors, which together are the main drivers of the economy in many Pacific countries. In Samoa, an agro-tourism policy is aiming for sustainable development, making greater use not just of local food products, but also handicrafts and services. With support from PIPSO, CTA and IFAD, Samoa and Vanuatu have developed a policy framework for agro-tourism ensuring contribution from key ministries, including agriculture, tourism, trade and health and the private sector. Fiji and Solomon Islands are in the process of developing similar policy frameworks.

In Fiji, which accounts for 40 percent of Pacific tourism with 1 million visitors each year, chefs are playing an important role in a strategy to offer local dishes in hotels and restaurants. Product quality has improved, but packaging and presentation remain significant challenges, together with better organisation of farmers themselves. “Around 80 percent of our producers in Fiji are small-scale, and this is our biggest challenge,” said Uraia Waibuta, Deputy Secretary for Agricultural Development at Fiji’s Ministry of Agriculture.

One initiative seeking to involve rural farmers in tourist related value chains by addressing issues of poor overall quality, supply and distribution involves grouping farmers into clusters.  With support from CTA, IFAD and the Pacific Community (SPC), commercial farming company Joes Farms is setting up collection centres in remote locations in Fiji to fetch farmers’ produce. The items are graded and assessed for quality and food safety, before being delivered to tourist outlets, including hotels, restaurants, cruise ships and yachts.