Developing the link between agriculture and tourism could be a significant opportunity for small island developing states. Already an expanding sector in several Pacific and Caribbean islands, agritourism can address a range of development challenges – among them low agricultural productivity, high food imports and loss of tourism revenue, poor public health and youth unemployment.
The majority of people in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) depend on agriculture for their livelihoods – yet the islands are often net importers of food. One of the serious downsides is that when tourists come, a large proportion of the money they bring in flows straight out again to purchase the foreign food and beverages which make up many hotel menus.
“For every tourism dollar spent, between 50 and 90 cents go back out,” said Ena Harvey, Agrotourism Specialist at the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture. “After accommodation, food and beverages are tourists’ second highest expenditure.” Tapping this market could be a big opportunity for farmers.
“We need to look at the areas of potential in each country, and how we create projects and investment profiles to optimise them,” said Harvey.
Agritourism linkage committees are being set up in nine eastern Caribbean states, funded by the EU. They will bring together the public and private sectors, and create resource centres where entrepreneurs can find out “how to get access to finance, resources, who is doing what, and how they can learn from it,” said Harvey. (See final section.)
Chefs can be agents for change, and many are moving away from the idea that tourists want to eat food familiar from home. They are also turning around a local perception that international cuisine is superior to islanders’ everyday food, and training younger chefs to prepare local specialties for the hotel plate.
“Chefs make the decisions about what food is used,” said Harvey. “We see them as the engine that will pull the agricultural train, from small farmers, micro-farmers, organic farmers, to small-scale processors with sauces and ingredients.”
One challenge is scale and consistency of supply, as a single farmer cannot produce the quantities needed by even one hotel. Clustering or cooperatives are needed.
One digital solution being developed in Haiti is an app linking farmers and chefs, which traces crops in real time. “It’s an app on your phone, where chefs can know who is producing what, where it’s produced, the quantities, the seasons,” explained Stephan Durand, a Haitian chef and culinary consultant. The developer, Jean-Maurice Buteau, “is working on registering every farmer in the area of Haiti, so chefs like myself and others can go directly to these farmers.”
Another issue is quality and certification, which are important for farmers to be able to sell to the tourist market. The EU helps develop farmers’ capacity to link into value chains by meeting food standards and gaining certification. (To find out about the EU’s work on Technical Barriers to Trade in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific, see our Voices & Views.)
Tourism as a development tool in the SDGs
The downsides of tourism for SIDS are clear: it can put pressure on local resources and delicate ecosystems, displace local cultural heritage, and the economic benefits do not automatically reach the poorest parts of the population.
Yet UNESCO notes a growing trend of responsible tourism, which, if sustainably managed, can benefit local businesses and service providers and encourage governments to protect biodiversity and the local environment.
Tourism features in three of the Sustainable Development Goals:
As well as linking up with hotels and chefs, farmers can engage with the tourist market directly by inviting tourists to their farms. Growing numbers of tourists care about sustainability, organic produce and authentic local cuisine, and are willing to pay a premium for it.
One example already running in the Pacific islands is Fansa Farm in Vanuatu. Founded by husband and wife team Jimmy Nipo and Lidcha Nanuman, the farm opens its gates to tourists three times a week and shows them how to grow and harvest crops including yam, taro, kava and tropical fruits. Tourists pay 4,000 vatu (€33) for a visit, which can include a cooking lesson or visit to a café serving local produce.
“It helps tourists see what’s happening at a local level, and touch the produce before it ends up on a plate in a restaurant or hotel,” said Howard Aru, Director for Agriculture, Vanuatu. “It’s a local example of how you can link agriculture with tourism. They can be a role model for others to follow.”
The farm also plays a role in developing climate-smart agriculture techniques, by planting new crop varieties chosen in consultation with the Department of Agriculture.
How is the EU supporting agritourism in Vanuatu?
The EU is working with Vanuatu’s government to improve links between small-holder farmers and producers and the hospitality sector. According to a study by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, Vanuatu’s hotels and restaurants spend around 1.5 billion Vatu ($15.6 million) a year on fresh food, of which 54% is imported. Meat and dairy were the largest category.
To help Vanuatu’s farmers gear their production towards this market, the EU, Food and Agriculture Organisation and Australian Aid funded research into Vanuatu’s agricultural value chains to identify the products which could be successfully grown at home. Fruit and vegetables, beef and coconut were identified as priorities in Vanuatu’s National Indicative Plan 2014-20, and the EU allocated €25 million from the 11th European Development Fund to support Vanuatu’s rural development. In the aftermath of Cyclone Pam in March 2015, the EU added a further €10 million from the 11th EDF reserve, making a total of €35 million available for rural development.
Some cross-cutting interventions the studies recommended were to improve:
For more on how Vanuatu is linking agriculture and tourism, see the Intra ACP Agricultural Policy Programme (a joint initiative of the EU and ACP countries), here.
Local development impact
Investing in agritourism can have a positive impact beyond the economic stimulus from interacting directly with tourists. “Linking agriculture and tourism is the best way to overcome rural poverty,” said Harvey. “It’s multi-sectoral and multi-layered.”
One important element is job creation. Sustainable and organic agriculture are more labour-intensive than their pesticide and chemical fertilizer-using equivalents, a benefit in SIDS with high youth unemployment and rural to urban migration. In addition, the tourism element creates new jobs on farms in tour-guiding, social media and business development, calling on young people’s online and language skills.
“When young people migrate to the city and there are no jobs, crime increases, drug use increases, and family life is broken up,” said Harvey. “So there are so many benefits, keeping land in agriculture, improving the availability of food, and the knock-on effects on health for future generations.”
“The Pacific like the Caribbean is suffering from a tsunami of non-communicable diseases,” said Harvey. “You have children who are clinically obese, in addition to high rates of diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.”
These are the leading causes of death in the Pacific region, according to the World Health Organisation, and unhealthy imported foods and poor nutrition labelling are well-documented causes. “When people start to eat better, and eat our foods, and not imported foods high in oil, fats, empty calories, lots of sugar and salt, health improves,” said Harvey.
In addition, climate-smart sustainable agriculture can improve food security for islands affected by changing weather patterns and temperatures, as well as emitting less carbon dioxide than some conventional agriculture methods.
Agritourism’s potential contribution to health, jobs and local economies and environments is clear. But how do we get there?
Matthew Brooke, Policy Officer on Private Sector and Agribusiness at DEVCO, highlighted several areas where donors can provide support. “We can best contribute by supporting governments not only with funding, but on regulatory conditions and the business environment,” said Brooke.
A lack of favourable policies to encourage links between agriculture, tourism and trade was one of the major challenges highlighted at the Agribusiness Forum in Fiji in July 2015, organised by the ACP-EU Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation (CTA), the Secretariat of the Pacific Communities (SPC) and the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation (PIPSO). (See the draft outcomes here.)
Brooke also pointed to natural resources management and skills training for tourism and agribusiness as crucial areas in need of support. “We appreciate this requires a holistic approach, which means more departments have to come together. Small island developing states are often well placed to ensure this happens.”
EU Delegations and Headquarters are already working to make links between players in the sector. “We are also trying to use more modern approaches to funding activities in support of developing the private sector, blending with partners and the private sector itself - always to reduce poverty and unemployment,” said Brooke.
Agritourism linkage committees – examples in the Carribbean
- CTA Resources (Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation – a joint initiative of the ACP states and the EU)
- Brussels Briefing on Agribusiness development in SIDS
- Chefs for Development