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: