Agriculture & Tourism- Howcan they merge?
In countries, such as St. Lucia, where tourism is the main driving agent of the economy, governments, civil society and NGOs are now turning to ways to promote their countries as a destination of choice while trying to maintain an environment for sustainable development. However, this is not always the case, particularly in the agricultural context where the challenges of food-sourcing from local farmers is considerable but not at all impossible.
Recently, we have been hearing words being thrown around like agro-tourism and rural tourism, but does the average farmer understand what this could mean for their economic livelihoods? We see efforts to improve the Castries market and policies being implemented so that small agro-business owners such as farmers, food vendors, etc. can also benefit economically from the tourism sector but the link doesn't seem to click. On one hand we have the policies, on the other hand we have a thriving tourist industry boasting arrivals of over 1.1 million visitors, but statistics show that locally-sourced fruits and vegetables averages around 42%, the remainder imported, although most of which can be grown on-island.
Let's be honest- the reason we have a $360M food import bill is not because we cannot grow what we eat, on the contrary we can; our farmers just don’t know what to grow. There is an information gap not only on the farmer level but also in the private sector. The hotels, restaurants and supermarkets do not know who the certified farmers are, where they live and what they produce and on the farmer side, they have no clue of the certifications that will give them market access, market prices or the ways to get technical and financial assistance to develop these capacities. Furthermore, there is a belief that our farmers cannot grow on a large-scale to fulfill the needs of these organizations and while farming cooperatives have popped up in almost every district (which would enable farmers to group together and supply these organizations) it has not changed the price of coffee (well maybe dasheen in this case). Many will say that this is the job of the agricultural extension officers, but for Pete's sake, there's only a handful of officers for thousands of farmers, it's understandable that there are rifts in the flow of information.
While import substitution is not as easy as it may sound (no matter how many ‘Buy Local’ campaigns we hear), it does not change the fact that in order to sell high quality produce year-round to the hotels on island we need to seriously attend to the common problems sourcing food locally- from inadequate quality, reliability, poor transportation and the overall lack of communication between supplier and purchaser. If we could supply a global market with bananas for decades, how is it that we can’t conquer our own?
*Helen's Daughters is a St. Lucian non-profit with a special focus on rural women’s economic development through improved market access, adaptive agricultural techniques, and capacity-building. It was formed in 2016 in a winning proposal for UN Women’s Empower Women Champions for Change Program.
To learn more about the initiative, you can visit:
Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/helensdaughters.slu/),