Tourism Links with Agriculture
A groundbreaking strategic alliance has been formally entered into as a result of an initiative of the Tourism Development Corporation. Recently, Ministers D’Aguilar and Pintard joined forces and signed a Memorandum of Understanding to launch a new initiative and seat the Agritourism Committee to engender a viable and visible linkage with local farmers and fishermen with the hospitality industry
Patterned on Agritourism successes achieved in Eastern Caribbean countries like Barbados, St Lucia, Antigua and Jamaica that have integrally partnered with their tourism sectors and realized benefits for their local economies, the Agritourism Committee will be co-chaired by Mark Humes, M.P. and Chairman of Bahamas Agricultural Health & Food Safety Authority (BAHFSA) and Janet Johnson, CEO/Executive Director of the Tourism Development Corporation (TDC). The Chairs will invite key stakeholders and technical organizations, including the Bahamas Hotel & Tourism Association, together with agricultural entities such as IICA and CARDI to participate.
Even though the proposed agritourism initiative was in the works, being advanced by both Ministers respectively, the COVID-19 pandemic was really the catalyst that propelled this much-needed strategic alliance along. Vital tourism linkages took on greater significance as Bahamian farmers and fisher entrepreneurs, experienced the devastating effects of the public health crisis.
An urgent demand study was commissioned and 70 crops were identified for local farmers to supply the tourism industry and local grocers. The Ministry of Agriculture enhanced its operation to support this important undertaking by putting in place the infrastructure including a cadre of newly hired extension officers with expertise to direct the process.
Eco-conscious restaurants, while observing the local regulations regarding seasonal fish, conch and lobster and sizes are celebrated by the conscious traveler who applauds sustainability practices and are eager to recommend such establishments.
“It is imperative that we foster the linkages with other sectors of our economy in order to ensure that there is direct trickle down from Tourism into the hands of Bahamians,” said Minister D’Aguilar. “Agritourism as a vehicle to elevate our farmer entrepreneurs and to give them opportunities to benefit from a much bigger market with regular income to sustain and improve the quality of their livelihoods. I envisioned Chefs making use of the locally sourced jams, jellies and pepper sauces in their recipes and visitors being able to purchase the items in the hotel gift shops and/or online as souvenir reminders of their visit.”
In addition he said, “we will see new, experiential tours to the pineapple fields in Eleuthera, as well as culinary tours to home gardens and the emergence of innovative features like aquaponics and hydroponic farming tours.’
Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Michael Pintard, championed the new agritourism initiative challenging the hotels to increase the ratio of local fresh produce purchases by 40% to abate the need for imports of goods that could be grown here at home. He in turn challenged Bahamian farmers to commit to supporting the initiative by growing and perfecting the shapes and flavors of their produce in ways that are actually required for the sophistication of the tourism industry rather than continuing to grow items that are not likely to yield a good return.
“While we welcome the advantages that a company like Sysco Bahamas Food Services provides the tourism sector,” Minister Pintard pointed out, “We also want to encourage Bahamian investors to form groups and explore these types of possibilities, such as the development of more organic chicken farms, and pig farming. We’ve put the Government’s Abattoir and the canning factories in the Family Islands on the market for interested entrepreneurs to joint venture on, with funding assistance from the Government. Never since the days of Hatchet Bay have there been such exciting opportunities available to those interested in farm entrepreneurship.”
The new thrust in agritourism is being driven by culturally and eco-conscious travellers who are now demanding that restaurants and hotels incorporate fresh fruit, herbs and vegetables from local farms in prepared dishes.
The deepening of agritourism linkages is already evident in the culinary sector. Whatsapp chats are being implemented to assist farmers to enable the posting of daily produce available for purchase immediately by hoteliers in both video and photo format inclusive of pricing which the hotelier/restaurateur/consumer can immediately see and negotiate. In restaurants, the farm-to-table concept has been introduced with tabletop tent cards promoting the farms that the establishment is partnered with and Chefs are encouraged to come out of their kitchens like celebrities and mingle with guests and talk up their partnership with local suppliers. This has become popular with diners who revel in the stories they share and serves as a talking point and reason to recommend the eatery.
Further, second home-owners, used to a culture of supporting their local farmers at farm stands in their towns and cities, encouraged the supply of fresh produce in the adopted communities where they came to live part of the year and helped to change the Bahamian perspective of thinking everything foreign is better. Bahamians quickly embraced this change toward healthy living and are patronizing farmer’s markets. The discernable call-to-action by residents embracing Bahamian culture and our food supply chains has had the desired result of impacting local economies, in positive ways, in the various island communities.
Agritourism has been given its wings. Both Ministers have put the mechanisms in place to ensure success. They continue to encourage Bahamians to take advantage of the opportunities they have made available. The Agritourism Committee stands ready to receive proposals and provide well-informed feedback and direction from technical experts at the top of their field. The Committee is also charged with fostering the linkage with the hotels and is encouraging more and more farmers to benefit, be it through intermediaries or direct contracts. Ultimately, this initiative will result in a significant reduction in the nation’s import bill and by extension its GDP.
Contact: Janet Johnson, Tourism Development Corporation, Mobile: 427.3757 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org