Agritourism: Creating links

In Caribbean and Pacific island states - where over 90% of food is imported - agritourism is encouraging the development of local markets and creating closer links etween producers and the tourism industry.

Tourists visit a cocoa plantation in the Caribbean ©

Well established in developed countries as ‘farm vacations’, agritourism has traditionally involved tourists paying to stay on farms, participating in farming activities and interacting with rural communities. This type of tourism is now taking off in other regions. South Africa’s agritourism, for example, is booming. Farm holidays and wine tours, amongst other activities, are a valuable means of generating income for South Africa’s farmers in a challenging agricultural and economic environment. Agritourism is now the fastest growing sector in the country’s ecotourism industry.

A more nuanced approach to agritourism - particularly in the Caribbean and Pacific - is linking agriculture to tourism by stimulating entrepreneurship, agribusiness and local markets. Local cuisine is an essential component in this new development trend; adding value to domestic and regional agricultural products also improves island food and nutrition security.
In the Caribbean, agricultural productivity is often constrained by inadequate agricultural practices, high postharvest losses, poor access to improved agricultural inputs and credit, as well as limited water resources and vulnerability to climate change. As a result of these and other factors, the Caribbean is a major importer of fresh and processed foods with imports having increased from €1.75 billion in 2000 to €3.75 billion in 2013. With significant financial, food security and health-related problems, the region is under pressure from a public-debt-to-GDP ratio estimated at 80% in 2014 and a rising prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCD).

Across the Pacific, 70% of agricultural areas are dependent on seasonal rainfall and many islands are at risk from rising sea levels, coastal erosion and seawater inundation. Agricultural production and productivity have stagnated, investment has been limited and producer and exporter organisations are weak. Traditional foods have increasingly been replaced by imported, highly refined foods and, with rapidly rising obesity rates, NCDs (including diabetes, heart disease and cancer) account for about 70% of all deaths across the Pacific region. Where sufficient land is available, linking agriculture and tourism provides a promising opportunity to stimulate inclusive economic growth in islands states. However, to serve the tourism market, local producers need to find profitable and competitive ways to sustain local sourcing in terms of volume and regularity, and meet quality demands as well as food safety requirements.

Agritourism for sustainable economic growth

While agriculture, for most countries across the Caribbean and Pacific, remains the main livelihood source for the majority of the population, its contribution to added economic value has declined over the last decade. In contrast, the tourism sector has seen significant growth and is the ‘lifeblood’ for many fragile island economies. Combining agriculture and tourism therefore offers opportunities for sustainable economic growth and is a promising avenue for diversification and increased trade.

Hotels, lodges and resorts require high quality, nutritious and healthy food every day of the year. Yet the tourist industry spends surprisingly little within the region, even when local supplies are readily available. Shifting food-sourcing to local farmers, fisherfolk and small-scale agribusinesses is not without its challenges. However agritourism linkages are evolving; across the Caribbean and Pacific, tourism is stimulating demand in the local agriculture sector, promoting healthy and nutritious food, as well as celebrating traditional cuisine and culture. “It is in this context that CTA and partners have launched the Chefs for Development initiative to stimulate sharing of best practices and promote the role of chefs as economic drivers and game changers,” says Isolina Boto, manager of the CTA Brussels Office and project leader on regional trade.

In 2013, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, 25 million tourists visited the Caribbean region spending approximately €24.8 billion. With luxury hotels, all-inclusive resorts and cruise ship tours, the Caribbean has, for many years, secured its position on the tourism map. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, in 2012, the contribution of tourism to GDP in Jamaica was 27%, Barbados 39%, The Bahamas 48%, and as high as 77% in Antigua and Barbuda.

Linking cuisine to agriculture

Global trends, including climate change and green economies, nutrition, health and heritage conservation, are all driving agritourism growth. Current market research indicates that tourists increasingly prefer authentic products and experiences linked to local foods, culture and heritage. Importantly, tourists are willing to pro-actively select and pay a premium for such products and experiences. Top dining trends also show that internationally recognised hotels and restaurants, as well as world-renowned chefs, are investing in local agricultural and food as part of their response to climate change and rising import costs. Chefs are increasingly experimenting with the flavours and colours of island cuisine.

An example of the private sector investing in agriculture is the Farmers Programme initiated and supported by the Sandals Group, a resort chain with properties across seven Caribbean island states. Established in 1996 with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority, the programme creates demand for local products among staff and customers and supports local farmers to deliver the quality and quantity of produce required. “Our group buys nearly €350 million of farmers’ produce a year. As a policy, we do not import agricultural supplies unless they are not locally available,” states Keith Collister, director of special projects for the Sandals Group.

Larry Rogers, owner of Cin Cin Restaurant in Barbados agrees with this approach, “As restaurateurs and chefs, we need to keep building our relationships with local farmers and fisherfolk. Our farmers have become more efficient in dealing with restaurant demands. Shawn, my purchaser, will visit four or five different farms in a day, plus the fish market, because if the produce doesn’t have to travel for days before it arrives in my kitchen, the fresher it will be.”

Dane Saddler, founder of Villa Chefs, a private dining service for villas and businesses in Barbados, is another strong believer in showcasing local produce for a luxury market. However, by promoting Caribbean cuisine, he is optimistic that that it will have a wider impact: “I would like to see more menus featuring local ingredients to encourage people to use these ingredients at home, ultimately creating a more sustainable food industry.”

“Culinary tourism is hot,” says Ena Harvey of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (see p. 3 ‘A leading light’). “In Barbados, we are seeing more and more chefs linking with organic farmers, local fisherfolk and small producers to produce fine dining and farm-to-table events.” She continues, “Encouragingly, we are also now seeing more institutional support for agritourism initiatives. One exciting development includes the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association receiving a €3.5 million grant from the Multilateral Investment Fund of the Inter-American Development Bank Group in early 2015. Linking hotels with micro, medium and small enterprises, the initiative is, for example, supporting a new group of small producers. Known as the ‘Emerging Brands of Barbados’, their products include fudge made from sheep and goat’s milk, local salad dressings, beverages and a range of handcrafted items.” At least 150 small businesses and 30 hotels and restaurants across the island are expected to participate in the 4 year project.

Promoting and sharing best practice

Whilst the desire and demand to promote local products is evident, farmers need support to overcome barriers and gain the skills and technology to cultivate better quality goods. Targeting 10,000 farmers across Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines, a new initiative implemented by the Caribbean Farmers Network, and funded by CTA and the Sandals Foundation, is working to build profitable value chains to attract more lucrative markets, including the tourism industry, for key crops such as roots and tubers, fruits and vegetables across the region. “This Caribbean value chain alliance will leverage private sector partners to create growth in the agricultural sector,” says Juan Cheaz of CTA. “As we work, we will learn what works best and we will share this knowledge with others to promote agribusiness across the region.”

Sharing knowledge across regions and exchanging experiences is the approach of CTA and partners as lessons transferred from Caribbean initiatives to the Pacific is very much in demand. “Tourists walk past fields in the islands full of crops struggling for export while their evening meal is being made with ingredients imported in shipping containers. We can use this situation to the advantage of all by changing demand for local nutritious produce,” says Chris Addison, regional coordinator for the Pacific at CTA. In Fiji in July 2015, the 1st Agribusiness Forum, organised by Pacific Island Private Sector Organisation, CTA and the Secretariat for the Pacific Community, highlighted agritourism successes in the Caribbean and Pacific. However, a need to develop agritourism policies to facilitate linkages between agriculture and tourism at national and regional levels was identified as a key issue.
The forum recommended that the first policy pilot be launched in Vanuatu (see above ‘Agritourism policy setting in the Pacific’). “The Agribusiness Forum in 2015 served as a major catalyst for new beginnings and change in the Pacific, and more so for us in Vanuatu,” stated Howard Aru, director general of Agriculture of Vanuatu, at the opening of workshop in Barbados to share experiences. “We are eager to link, learn and to help transform the Pacific region,” he continued.

As in the Caribbean, Pacific islands chefs are playing a unique role in linking agriculture and tourism through their knowledge of local foods, and abilities to innovate with local cuisine and connect producers to consumers. Jesse Lee, chef and owner of Palusami Restaurant and Bar on the waterfront in Apia, Samoa, says “We want our local people to know that the little garden patch next to their house is good enough to be served at our restaurant.”

Samoan NGO, Women in Business Development Inc (WIBDI), works with around 1,000 family farms, a significant proportion of Samoa’s farming population. Around 600 of them have been certified organic by the National Association of Sustainable Agriculture in Australia. However, over time, WIBDI’s focus has moved from predominantly organic compliance, to a focus on the farm-to-restaurant supply chain, and the NGO now works in close collaboration with New Zealand chef, Robert Oliver. Tourism industry critiques, however, can be harsh so WIBDI has implemented robust systems, education and capacity building for farmers about the commercial realities of supplying the tourism industry. “It’s one thing to have the produce but if menus don’t include that produce, then we can’t actually get it into the restaurants. The cuisine is definitely an important piece of the story,” says Faumuina Tafuna’i, WIBDI media and communication officer. “It has been a learning curve but we believe that the farm-to-table programme can become a model for other Pacific nations.”

Susanna Cartmell-Thorp

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.