Growth & Jobs | Bearing fruit - Tourism industry consuming more locally produced food
The Tourism Linkages Network has been reaping success through its efforts at strengthening the relationship between the tourism and the agricultural sectors, resulting in an increase in the demand and consumption of local produce by the hospitality industry.
A major thrust which has been bearing fruit is the Tourism Agri-Linkages Exchange (ALEX) pilot project, which has assisted 400 local farmers with the marketing of approximately 360,000 kilogrammes of produce valued at over $39 million.
ALEX, which is a joint initiative of the Ministry of Tourism and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), is the first online platform of its kind in the country.
It brings hoteliers in direct contact with the farmers and, in turn, reduces leakages and retains more of the economic benefits of tourism in Jamaica.
The platform, which can be found at agrilinkages.com, allows farmers to plan in order to adequately address crop seasonality and provide information as it relates to geographic location of specific produce.
The Agri-Linkages Exchange Centre was opened at RADA's St Andrew parish office last Wednesday.
The centre will register and link more farmers directly with buyers in the hotel industry, and build out the supply side of the tourism sector.
It will help to enhance communication between farmers and purchasers, improve the availability of market information and give farmers feedback, which will better influence what they produce.
Director of the Tourism Linkages Network, Carolyn McDonald-Riley, explained that ALEX will connect the farmer with the purchasing manager of a hotel.
"We are aware that a number of our farmers are not yet on an electronic platform, so the agro-marketing brokers at the centre will assist them through the process. So, the farmers are able to call in and indicate how much produce they have, and the brokers are able to put it on the site, giving the hospitality sector access to the information," she explained.
The Linkages Network is also providing support to farmers who supply the tourism industry with strawberries.
"Strawberry is one of those cash crops that require technical expertise, so we got one of our consultants to do a 'berry farming manual', looking at what is required to grow that type of crop," McDonald-Riley said.
She added that semi-greenhouses have been set up for the nine strawberry farmers who supply the sector with the product.
IMPROVED OPERATIONS TECHNIQUES
She said that the aim is to increase the supply of strawberries from eight to 20 per cent through improved operations and techniques.
McDonald-Riley said during last year's staging of the global tourism conference, the berry farmers got the opportunity to meet with hotel operators, which resulted in them being awarded contracts for supplying various entities.
"So, the idea is that the berry farmers will be able to produce more, and, in the long run, they will produce other types of berries, and we will partner with other organisations such as Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) and the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture & Fisheries to expand the initiative," she pointed out.
She noted that already, the ministry has assigned technical personnel to research and identify the best strain of strawberry to be grown, with the aim of providing suckers to the farmers, while JSIF has been looking at using some bauxite lands for strawberry expansion.
The Tourism Linkages Network targets the development and strengthening of sustainable links between tourism and other productive sectors of the economy to which it is closely connected, which, in addition to agriculture, includes manufacturing and entertainment.
The primary objective is to increase the consumption of goods and services that can be competitively sourced locally. It also aims to create employment while generating and retaining the country's foreign exchange-earning potential.