Nukualofa, Tonga - This week in Tongatapu a number of activities are under way to improve the livelihoods of farmers by improving their access to the tourism and restaurant markets.

The European Union, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) are collaborating with the Tonga Ministry of Agriculture to promote Pacific Agritourism in Nuku'alofa, in an effort to strengthen the links between agriculture and tourism.

Events focus on the theme 'Linking farmers to hoteliers to improve nutritional and financial health', to better expand income opportunities for smallholder farmers by connecting them to new domestic market opportunities.

Specifically, the Tonga event is themed: 'Think global, go local: Developing access, promoting local cuisine and ensuring healthy living!' in line with the European Union Year of Development theme for the month of April on healthy living.

A highlight of the week is the Tonga Culinary Training Workshop (22-24 April), hosted by international celebrity chef, Robert Oliver.

"With more of a local menu, they then use more local foods. So the menus would contain Pacific friendly food," Mr Oliver said.

The week began with a Farmers' Training opened by the Hon. Semisi Fahakau, Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFFF) on Monday 20 April, followed by a seminar at the University of the South Pacific campus on Tuesday.

Included in the culinary workshop is the Buyers-Sellers Mart where farmers and chefs are meeting.

The Mart is similar to 'speed dating', whereby over a 2-hour period, farmers talk with chefs for brief 10-minute sessions to quickly get to know each other, exchange ideas and discuss any direct-supply opportunities.

The Mart is being held at the Ahopanilolo Institute, Ma'ufanga, with more than 40 farmers and tourism operators, primarily restaurant chefs.

Today practical training in the kitchen training is taking place for local chefs who will use their new skills and local produce to prepare a Final Gala Dinner to showcase the array of local contemporary dishes produced by local chefs as a result of their training.

The Chief Executive Officer of Tonga MAFFF, Losaline Ma'asi, said a growing dependence on imported foods is posing a major threat to Pacific island nations, where 80 per cent of the population is directly or indirectly dependant on the agriculture sector as a major source of livelihood.

"We are importing more and have a limited capacity for the small holder sector of agriculture to supply and satisfy the needs of the domestic market," Mrs Ma'asi said.

"That leaves major challenges to encourage more commercial production through sustained access to competitive markets, and having more local foods, livestock and fish used by local restaurants is one effective way to combat the large portion of imports, for which restaurants account for a large portion," she said.

The South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO) is facilitating the participation of tourism operators, with a focus on chefs, for the three-day culinary workshop.

The week is supported by the Pacific Agriculture Policy Program (PAPP), implemented by SPC's Land Resources Division, is part of a broader European Union partnership under the 10th European Development Fund (EDF 10) with the African Caribbean and Pacific States (ACP).

MEDIA ACCESS: Media are invited to the cover all the agritourism events.

Media contacts:

Emil Adams: PAPP Information and Communication Management Officer +679 7263969

Tonga Contact: Luseane Taufa, Head of Food Section, MAFFF; contact: +676 8734843

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