Consolidated Responses for the PAFPNet Discussion for the month of May/June 2015

Date: 20/05/2015 – 19/06/2015

"Linking Farmers to the Tourism Market"

The PAFPNet topic for the months of May/June, "Linking Farmers to the Tourism Market" focused on questions that highlighted key problem areas affecting the connection between producers and hoteliers in the tourism industry, as well as methods to strengthen this link. This discussion topic was initiated with the objective of providing assistance, paired with a concrete dialogue outline to help close the gap between producers and buyers in the tourism market during the Pacific Agriculture Policy Project (PAPP) funded Pacific Community Agritourism Week held in June 2015.

Linking farmers to the Tourism market was a concept that stimulated constructive debate and dialogue among PAFPNet members. Bridging the gap between producers and the tourism market has been identified as an innovative way to reduce poverty and improve sustainability in the Small Island Developing States (SIDS). The connection between farmers and hoteliers in the tourism industry contends with many issues. The implementation of this idea faces the practicality of supply and demand consistency and the agriculture/tourism market capacity.

To address the issue of supply consistency, the importation of off-season crop varieties was suggested to help maintain the regularity of supply to hotel chefs. However, the notion of intensifying efforts to utilise local produce was predominant among members’ during the discussion. Promoting and creating more awareness on the utilisation of local produce would play a key contributing factor to addressing the issue of supply consistency. Providing farmers with incentives, for instance, granting subsidies for farm equipment, vegetable seeds and fertilizers will help boost production, thus increasing the probability of its use locally.

Moreover, participants in the forum proposed for training workshop initiatives highlighting modern farming techniques as well as business/marketing knowledge. The techniques mentioned should be rendered around producing quality efficient crops compatible with meeting the standard criteria in the tourism market. Additionally, strategizing and preparing farm and cropping plans and calendars would help minimize the issue of crop supply shortage by providing farmers with the necessary business skills through various training initiatives.

The mention of policy incentives for both farmers and hotels from the government fuelled a number of recommendations. Participants made mention that the government should ensure the local market is protected with their continued support to develop. This support was encompassed around the implementation of policies compelling hoteliers to use local produce in their kitchens. However, a more realistic mention stated that the government should form a policy stating the usage of both local and imported produce on a 50/50 basis by hoteliers, with the exception of the comparative advantage aspect.

On the same note, given that islands in the Pacific, specifically low-lying coastal countries are most vulnerable to natural disasters, a policy for crop insurance was recommended to cater to the loss of crops during unforeseen events.

However, according to one contributor during the discussion, a ‘policy incentive’ may not necessarily be ideal to improve the linkage sustainability. Hotels should be sourcing from farmers because they believe it is beneficial to do so (either in terms of it being cheaper, or fresher, or offering some intangible benefit that hotel guests value in terms of supporting the local community), not because of an incentive offered by the government.

Information and awareness is important to both farmers and the hotels to ensure steady coordination between the two sectors. In order for farmers to be efficient in crop production, they must have a fair idea of the tourism market, that is, tourism peaks, tourists’ preference on local foods and a list of popular local meals. In having this information, farmers will better determine potential agricultural products aligned with the potential of the tourism market.  Additionally, hotels need to also consider alternatives to using middlemen (purchasing officers) for the supply of their produce. Members commented that hotels should undertake extra efforts to acquire farmers’ contact and crop information/prices. This would help motivate farmers to produce more on a commercial scale with crops that meet an exceptional criterion.

It is essential that communication lines are effective to maintain the connection between farmers and the hotel markets. Using mediums like the use of phone applications was mentioned to help improve the dissemination of market information. Social Media and the use of online applications would help both parties stay updated with the tourism market fluctuations and crop seasonality.

On another note, given that value-add products play an immense role in our commercial market, promotional measures must be considered to help increase its market demand. Exposing local agri-products at national and international trade shows for exposure was a method discussed on the network. Also, using already existing ministries/institutions and organizations in the market would increase the chances of likely sponsorship of local agri-products which would pave the way for improved marketability.

Finally, the seasonality of crops is one of the constraining factors affecting the growth and development of our agriculture industry in relation to the hotel markets. The implementation of Agro-processing was highlighted to as a means to strengthen the local agriculture sector. Transforming local goods in their raw form to products would have a higher potential rate to sell in the hotel/tourism market. This point then brings us back to the importance of value-add products and how its use would be a potential key channel to linking farmers to the tourism market with higher returns.