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Pacific Islands: Agritourism for sustainable growth

Entrepreneurship

Tourism is hugely valuable to Pacific island economies. Total revenues from the sector are expected to nearly double to €3.58 billion by 2019. For many farming communities in the Pacific however, there is very little direct benefit for local producers.

Key tourism actors – airlines, hotels and cruise ships – all need reliable and high-quality food supply to meet the demand of affluent customers. Despite this, as much as 80% of the food used for tourism is imported.

In July, an agribusiness forum in Fiji, Linking the agrifood sector to the tourism-related markets, explored the potential synergies between agriculture, fisheries and tourism in the region. How can local smallholder agriculture end up on the kitchen tables of the global tourism industry?

“In the Pacific and Caribbean, there are high levels of food imports and many problems related to nutrition – such as obesity and micronutrient deficiency – as a result of the poor nutritional value of imported foods. These shared challenges can be addressed by increasing the production of local foods. This niche of linking tourism and agriculture creates an opportunity,” said CTA Director, Michael Hailu at the forum.

Linking tourism and agriculture - organic opportunities

Most Pacific island countries do not have agritourism policies in place, which could link agriculture and tourism strategically together for positive impacts on local producers and for tourists.

“Agritourism linkages include the sale of produce to hotels, restaurants and cafés but also the promotion of cultural experiences for tourism.” Noted Dr Falatoi Tui’laepa, assistant chief executive officer for policy, planning and communication in Samoa’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

“We need to grow more agricultural produce, to produce more livestock, more crops and increase our harvest from the sea to supply our population as well as the tourists in our resorts. Before, we just focused on the planting and the harvesting. Today we have to look at the whole value chain,” he said.

Looking at the ‘whole’ value chain, organic production is one area where the Pacific can provide a comparative advantage. Branding local foods in terms of their health benefits and emphasising environmentally-friendly eco-tourism activities is crucial for engaging both the agrifood and tourism-related sectors in sustainable development.

In agritourism, it is important to sell both a product and its ‘story’. Tourists (and consumers) are increasingly conscious about health benefits, social responsibilities and community development, and therefore willing to buy local foods. Consistent branding of this kind would help to create food products that are desirable within the tourism sector. Chefs also have an important role to play in promoting local products and produce. Training of chefs to make the most of local ingredients and create menus that fuse traditional and contemporary elements is another strategy to link local markets to global consumers.

Where to from here?

A number of areas for action were identified as a result of discussions during the agribusiness forum in July. Firstly, is the creation of a regional project to support agribusiness development, in particular for small and medium-sized enterprises. Strong public-private partnerships are needed to acquire global financing and a better trade environment across the Pacific and among ACP small island states.

Developing agritourism policies at a national and regional level to promote cross-sectoral linkages is the second vital area. Policy development in Vanuatu was proposed as an initial step, with support from CTA and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA). IICA will also contribute experience from the Caribbean, which has already has a successful regional strategy on agritourism.

A third area is the development of agribusiness platforms to strengthen the delivery of business information and data to partners in the agribusiness sector, including small enterprises. In addition, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community was urged to work with central banks and development banks to create better conditions for financing of the agribusiness value chain.

Other suggestions included: creating an accreditation system upheld by tourism ministries, to confirm a product is meeting local sourcing target; setting up excellence awards for the best village farmers supplying quality fresh local produce; and, matching mentors with young people entering farming as a business.

At the close of the agribusiness forum, a plan of action for small island states was compiled in the form of a Nadi Declaration. This agrees to establish a regional agritourism steering group which will initially be tasked with drawing up a Pacific workplan for agritourism by 1 September 2015. Members of the Group include CTA, the South Pacific Tourism Organisation, FAO and the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation. 

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