In Cameroon, chefs and farmers have little direct contact, so they fail to tap into the potential benefits that closer ties could bring. Hotels and restaurants often have to rely on imported food, or turn to other service providers and suppliers because chefs struggle to find a reliable source of local high-quality produce. In addition, authorities have seemed so far unwilling to do much about it.
Efforts to build closer partnerships between smallholders and the hospitality and catering industry are beset with problems, with the main issues being around quality and supply. Before they can sell to hotels, farmers have to produce nutrition fact sheets to prove that their produce is traceable and safe to eat; only then are hotel managers willing to accept locally sourced food – and serve it to their customers.
One way to overcome this problem would be to set up formal mechanisms for dialogue and discussion between politicians (ministries of agriculture, trade and tourism), hotel managers, chefs and farmers. An initiative of this type would give hotel managers clearer information and help alleviate their fears around quality and regularity of supply. Farmers, meanwhile, would be better informed about the quality and volume that hotels and consumers expect. And, ultimately, chefs would have a wider range of produce to choose from.
In 2016, CTA and the Regional Platform of Farmers' Organizations in Central Africa, PROPAC, launched the Chefs for Development initiative in Yaoundé. Since then, association of culinary and pastry chefs of Cameroon has been working to incorporate more local dishes into menus and forge partnerships with farmers’ and processors’ organisations. Some hotels and restaurants have begun – albeit cautiously – developing more formal supply arrangements with farmers’ organisations. The SOCOOPMATPA cooperative for cassava, other tubers and agricultural products, already has such an arrangement in place, and efforts to build a partnership with the Pan-African Farmers’ Organisation, CTA and the AgriCordalliance of agri-agencies are ongoing.
Cameroon has a rich and varied culinary tradition and the country’s hotels play host to scores of foreigners, visitors and tourists. But tapping into this potential requires action. More specifically, it calls for a formal agritourism policy. The government needs to introduce public incentive schemes to encourage hotels and restaurants to incorporate more local produce into their menus. And politicians need to work in tandem with the agricultural value chain to get more food from local farmers and processors into hotels and restaurants. As a matter of priority, the chefs’ federation should map the farmers capable of supplying high-quality produce and sign formal partnership agreements with these suppliers. But there is a lot of awareness-raising and capacity-building work to be done before that can happen.
Chefs for Development is a genuine opportunity to develop agritourism in Cameroon. Expanding the initiative further would provide a real boost to farmers’ incomes.