Gov’t wants to create greater agriculture–tourism linkages
One way of reducing Saint Lucia’s high food import bill is to encourage the use of locally grown agricultural products by the hotel sector, something which Tourism Minister Dominic Fedee said his government plans to expand.
The minister said he has started discussions with his cabinet colleague, Agriculture Minister Ezechiel Joseph, who, according to him, understands the important role that the tourism sector could play to drive agriculture.
“The two of us have been having tremendous discussions on where we can take agriculture-tourism linkage. But I think this is a time for us to act and not talk too much,” Fedee told St. Lucia News Online (SNO) in a recent interview.
Several studies have been done in this area and Fedee is of the opinion that the only thing left to do now, is to carry out several consultation with all stakeholders to determine the future of this important partnership.
The minister, a former communications professional who worked in the tourism sector, told SNO that during that period, he witnessed first-hand how successful agriculture-tourism linkage can be.
He said it takes a simple approach, which is to “get out there and do it.” “Tell the farmers what you want, sign the contract and have them deliver at the quantity and quality that you require,” he added.
He continued, “I think we take for granted the genius and creativity of our people, and I think if we give the farmers the direction to say to them that these are the crops that hoteliers are buying and these are the prices, they will deliver.”
Research in Saint Lucia suggests that promoting linkages between hotels and groups of farmers such as cooperatives has the greatest potential to stimulate local agricultural production for hotel and domestic consumption. However, in recent times, there have been issues with cash flow.
“That has now been taken care of, where the industry has come together and they have mobilized many credit unions and the Saint Lucia Development Bank, for there to be an establishment of a funding mechanism, so that farmers could sell their produce to a hotel, but yet be paid in a convenient time by a credit union or a bank.”
The minister told SNO that these funding mechanisms have been well established with various farmers’ cooperatives, while emphasizing the need to build more and improving their capacity to deliver.
“…so that the hotel will be encouraged and gain the confidence in the farming community, and not see the farming community as a well fragmented project but as a project that is organised and efficient.”
Fedee noted that market is worth millions of dollars, asserting that there is great potential of it expanding.
The government over the years have been working to create a sustainable linkage between these two key sectors and has managed to make some progress at various levels.
And earlier this year, the Saint Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association through partnership with the Tourism Enhancement Fund appointed a sector liaison officer for agriculture and tourism.
Agriculture continues to be a critical sector for the island although its contribution to Gross Domestic Product has been steadily declining over the last 10 years. The country is a net-food importing country, with a growing trade deficit in its food bill over the last 10 years.