“The Solomon Islands population depends so much on agriculture for their livelihood and particularly those living in the rural area,” said the Minister of Agriculture and Tourism, Honourable Bartholomew Parapolo in his opening remarks. “Tourism also has huge potential in the country to enhance rural participation in economic activities."
The two day workshop considered the status of agriculture and tourism in the country, and looked at the priority areas where agriculture and tourism sectors could deliver mutual benefits, notably in terms of local sourcing, value addition, product diversification, and the culinary industry. Speakers from government, the private sector, and experts in agriculture, tourism and trade made contributions highlighting the key factors needed to drive stronger linkages between the sectors.
More funding for agriculture and tourism
Increasing budgetary allocation in favour of agriculture and tourism should be a priority, argued the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, Jimi Saelea. “Agriculture has relatively less than 2% of the national budget, whilst tourism has less than 1% of the national budget,” he pointed out. “It is about time that we need to support these two sectors.”
Notwithstanding the small funding it receives, tourism in the Solomon Islands is growing at a healthy rate. In 2016, there were over 22,000 visitors to the Solomon Islands, who contributed $233 million in revenues, and visitor number are expected to rise by 9% for 2017. For Saelea, it is important that the agritourism policy is inclusive, and delivers gains for rural communities and farmers.
Big demand for professional chefs
An area of particular interest for the workshop was the role of chefs in linking agriculture and tourism through cuisine. Chef Colin Chung, renowned across the Pacific for his skills and advocacy for local sourcing, spoke about the opportunities for food tourism in the Solomon Islands and highlighted successes in Fiji and across the region. In addition to supporting the diversification of the tourism offering of the country, culinary tourism can also stimulate demand for local foods and products from farmers.
One big challenge that the Solomon Islands will have to address is the capacity gap in the food service industry, as the country currently has just a few professional Chefs. Speaking to the Workshop, Freda Unisi of the Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau (SIVB) lamented that “tourists want a taste of our local organic foods in their short visits, but with our lack of professional chefs, there’s no local set menu’s to be marketed to our visitors''. She hoped that the Agritourism Policy would take this into account.
CTA, SPTO and PIPSO are supporting capacity development of chefs across the region and promoting the exchange of experiences and best practices through their Chefs for Development platform. “We believe that professional chefs can be great promoters of local food and cuisine, and also work with farmers to improve the quality of food needed by hotels and restaurants,” says Isolina Boto, Manager at CTA and coordinator of the agritourism project.
Setting the course for agritourism development in the Pacific
Solomon Islands is the third South Pacific Island to organise an Agritourism Policy Setting Workshop, following the successful format developed first in Vanuatu in October 2016 and then advanced by Samoa in November 2016. The region achieved an important milestone last month, when Pacific Ministers of Agriculture and Tourism endorsed recommendations for the development of agritourism throughout the region. Another eagerly anticipated agritourism exchange workshop is expected to take place in Fiji in December, and discussions are underway for similar events in other Pacific islands.
“The countries in the Pacific are seeing the benefits of connecting and linking these two important industries with a multi-sectoral approach to ensure the participation of all players in the industries which is quite innovative in the Pacific,” says Mereia Volavola, agribusiness expert and former CEO of PIPSO.
CTA continues to mobilise key partnerships supporting innovations in agricultural development through its partnerships in the Pacific and Caribbean and fostering of intra-regional knowledge sharing and experience capitalisation, from which the agritourism policy development agenda has emerged.