Linkages between the Agri-Food Sector and Tourism offer significant opportunities for the development of both sectors within the region. These linkages could lead to ensuring the sustainability of the region’s tourism product thus ensuring it preservation.
Establishment of linkages between the two sectors would enable the utilisation of the ability of the tourism industry to diversify the Caribbean Economy, stimulate entrepreneurship, catalyse investment and assist in wider social development of local communities, this is according to a 2010 study “Background Study, Regional Agrotourism Policy” done by Ena C. Harvey, IICA Agrotourism Specialist.
The Report defines agrotourism as embracing the full range of products and services, development options and commercial linkages possible across the Agri-Food-Tourism value chain, including those tourism products developed for rural/agricultural environments.
Internationally, agrotourism is being driven by changes in global trends such as food and dining, climate change, energy conservation, environmental protection, nutrition, health and wellness and conservation of heritage. Within the Caribbean, which sees an annual influx of approximately 40 million visitors, market research has indicated preferences by tourist for an experience and product that is authentic and linked to local foods, culture and heritage and are willing to pay a premium price for the experience.
Available information has shown that the linkages between the sectors are as low as 10-30% for some destinations and as high as 70-90% for some products for specific niche markets. This has led to many countries identifying specific products which have a comparative advantage for the tourism sector. At the regional level, products have been identified and several studies have been done to promote their production. Among them are papaya, hot pepper, sweet potato and small ruminants (sheep and goats).
Agro and rural based tourism sites and attractions have shown exciting and initiatives in areas such as culinary events, nature- and agriculture-based accommodation, tours and attractions. Some examples of these are the Taste Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica’s Calendar of Foods Festivals, Plantation Tours and natural health and beauty products utilising cerasee (bitter melon), ginger, crabwood (carapa) oil, organic coffee and cocoa, cassava cassareep, noni and aloe.
There is no single comprehensive regional study on the linkages between farmers and the tourism industry and its potential for trade in fresh produce, processed foods and horticulture crops, and the linkages vary from country to country.
In 2005-2006, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) conducted a study of nine CARIFORUM countries while the World Bank in 2008 conducted a study of six OECS countries. National studies were also conducted in the Bahamas, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago within the past five years.
The CHTA study titled “The Caribbean Accommodation Sector as a Consumer of Locally Produced Goods and Contributor to Government Revenue” stated that less than one fifth of the fresh fruit, fish and egg requirement was fulfilled locally despite there being a 49% linkage between the hotel and fresh produce sectors. Further, results from the 2008 World Bank study titled “OECS Increasing Linkages of Tourism with Agriculture, Manufacturing and Service Sectors” showed that food imports for the tourism sector were estimated at a value of US$ 366 million in 2007 and represented 20 – 25% of total agriculture imports. The study surveyed 70 hotels, marinas and tourism operators in Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines identified meat, dairy products and alcoholic beverages as representing the major imports.
Due to these studies, several countries have taken steps to produce crops locally to satisfy the demands of the hotel industry. In Jamaica for instance where the supply of produce to the hotel industry is controlled by an ad hoc arrangement of middlemen who are able to supply the industry with both local and imported products, the Ministry of Agriculture has identified onion, potato, cassava, sweet potato, dasheen, yams, carrots, pepper (hot and sweet), ginger, tomato and escallion for development. The emergence of farmers groups and farmers cooperatives through the work of the Ministry of Agriculture has also opened up possibilities of direct linkages between farmers and hotels.
Hotels and restaurants in the Bahamas are heavily reliant on imports due to the perceived lack of agriculture to serve the sectors. The Ministry of Agriculture in response to this conducted a market survey in 2008 to identify commodities with the greatest potential for penetration into the tourism sector. Following the survey in which buyers were interviewed, fifteen crops were identified as having the best penetration potential for the Bahamas tourism Sector. These are:
|Onion||Cabbage||Celery||Irish Potato||Sweet Pepper|
Buyers in the Bahamas also indicated that local produce such as tomato, cabbage, sweet pepper, onion, cucumber, pumpkin, lemon and lime are of a high standard and indicated a preference for them due to superior flavour and taste.
In Trinidad and Tobago, although there is much better active trade in the supply of locally produced foods to the tourism sector, it has been recognised that there is room for improvement in terms of consistency, quality of supply, pricing, scheduling, marketing and communication among the sectors. Recognising this, NAMDEVCO in 2004 initiated contract farming relationships intended to encourage a closer relationship between agriculture and tourism through marketing strategies and initiating communications. They also conducted a survey of hotels and restaurants.
The Trinidad and Tobago survey collected data on the consumption trends and values for the numerous crops and commodities including;
There are also linkages between farmers and restaurants that are not associated with hotels, and linkages between the region’s top agro processing companies and the tourism and food service sectors. Processed foods which are traded include:
|Pepper Sauces and Jellies||Jerk Sauces and Marinades||Bottled Seasoning and Casareep|
|Coconut Oil||Jams and Jellies||Coffee and Herbal Teas|
|Bottled Seasoning||Cassava Bread and Cassava Pancake / Waffle Mix|
|Bottled Coconut Water||Canned Ackee, Calaloo, Breadfruit, Peas and Beans|
Despite the existing linkages among the sectors and the potential of the agrotourism sector as an earner of foreign exchange, several constraints have been identified. These include the absence of information, technical assistance and funding for investment, poor rural infrastructure, uncoordinated systems for certification of products and service providers that are relevant to the Caribbean reality and consistent with basic international requirements and standards; and an apparent weakness among community-based organizations and producer associations to work in organized professional groups to develop and manage projects, access markets or take advantage of available assistance and financial resources.
Nevertheless, there are several success stories of farmer – hotel projects and ongoing business ventures which are based on the provision and trade of fresh produce to the tourism and hospitality sector which could be built on and replicated throughout the region. Some of these success stories are;