New Opportunities through Caribbean foods and flavours
CTA’s new publication, titled "Strengthening local food production and trade in the Caribbean", explores the transformation of Caribbean food and agriculture systems through improved production and trade. It showcases farmers, agribusinesses, chefs and policymakers who are working and collaborating across islands and value chains to create opportunities, and enhance earnings and growth.
“Two decades ago, countries belonging to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) imported 54% of their food,” says CTA Director Michael Hailu in the introduction. “By 2011, the figure had risen to 71% and the food import bill now exceeds US$4 billion a year. To counter this trend, Caribbean countries have pledged to increase domestic food production and reduce their reliance on imports. CTA and partners such as IICA, the Caribbean Agribusiness Association (CABA) and key players in the private sector, including chefs, have promoted and supported efforts in the Caribbean to increase the use of local products. Whether as a direct substitute to imported goods, or in lucrative markets such as the tourism industry, this can help farmers to diversify and generate greater incomes.
The booklet takes a deeper look into how the Caribbean is advancing this objective across three areas: increasing local production, enhancing value addition, and finally, creating intersectoral linkages and networks to boost local consumption. There are also important lessons to be drawn from the approaches taken in the Caribbean, particularly in relation to creating an enabling policy environment where small-scale farmers, agripreneurs and value chain actors can easily engage and thrive.
In the first chapter, the booklet unpacks Jamaica’s government programme to increase the domestic production of potatoes. Under the National Irish Potato Expansion Programme, Jamaica has managed to increase the level of self-sufficiency from 32% in 2008 to 90% by 2014, in the process benefitting over small-scale 3,000 farmers, including producers such as George Allen, for whom potatoes are now his most profitable cash crop.
Value addition in Trinidad and Tobago is the focus of the second chapter, which tells the story of two enterprises whose innovations are helping to increase production and reduce imports. Trinidad and Tobago Agri-Business Association (TTABA), working in partnership with Chee Mooke Bakery in Port of Spain, and other food retailers, have achieved the holy grail of local production: namely sourcing and processing root crops and other local staples to manufacture consumer goods which would otherwise be made largely with imported ingredients. It is now possible to find bread made with cassava and plantains, papaya tomato ketchup, sweet-potato crinkle fries, cassava cubes and coconut water on sale in large retailers across the country, all made from ingredients produced by local farmers.
The final chapter looks at how agritourism is developing in Barbados, a country which imports 90% of the food it consumes, a significant volume of which goes towards feeding the approximately 1 million annual foreign visitors to the island. Key to reversing this trend will be the promotion of local sourcing by hotels and restaurants. This will involve a number of actions. First, the agriculture and tourism industries will have to create strengthen intersectoral linkages, which should run from the policy-level right through to the grassroots. Local chefs, who are keen to include more Bajan foods on menus, should be supported with trainings and qualifications. The Chefs, agribusinesses and organisations featured in this chapter really place a strong emphasis on the need to improve quality, consistency and variety of supply by local producers, and on promoting local cuisine as a valuable channel to bridge the agriculture and tourism sectors.
Caribbean cuisine can play a pivotal role in stimulating demand for local produce, a point emphasised in the booklet by the Chefs and other stakeholders who are featured. “I source as much food as I can locally and stress the importance of developing and building on our local cuisine”, said Chef Peter Edey, a leading champion of Caribbean cuisine, echoing the views expressed in the Brussels Briefing on the potential of tourism markets. The rationale behind local sourcing is excellently captured by Kirk Kirton, executive chef Fairmont Royal Pavilion, who explains, “fresh produce always tastes better than imported produce, and it has a much longer shelf life.” However, the beauty of local sourcing, and the development of agriculture, tourism and cuisine linkages, lies in its multiplier effects, as a diverse, authentic local food scene can also diversify the tourism offer of the Caribbean, encourage more visitors and most importantly, open up new opportunities for entrepreneurship and job creation. “Foreign tourists are now much more likely to demand local food than in the past”, observes Chef Dane Saddler, the young talent behind Caribbean Villa Chefs, “they haven’t come all this way to eat fish and chips and many want an authentic local experience.”
Read the CTA publication “Strengthening local food production and trade in the Caribbean” http://bit.ly/2j0iQHF
Recap the Brussels Briefing on “Agribusiness development in SIDS: the potential of tourism-related markets” http://bit.ly/2dcZw9Z
Discover more about the role of Chefs using cuisine to link agriculture with tourism, on Chefs for Development website http://chefs4dev.org/
Ena Harvey, Agritourism Expert, IICA Representative in Barbados & Management Coordinator for Caribbean region