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Agritourism may bring more income to rural communities in Vanuatu

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The full potential for agritourism – a combined strategy linking agriculture and tourism – has yet to be tapped in many Pacific countries, according to speakers at a workshop organised during the Pacific Week of Agriculture (PWA) in Port Vila.

Strong growth in tourism offers valuable opportunities for the local industries and rural communities in Pacific Small Island Developing States.

The event, New Opportunities in the Agritourism Sector in the Pacific, was organised by the the Vanuatu Government, the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation (PIPSO), the South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), to share lessons learned, examine progress made in serving tourism markets in a number of Pacific countries and assess results of previous support from the organisers to the agritourism sector in the region.

Overall, more needs to be done to connect farmers, fishers and other rural actors to market openings offered by tourism and the hospitality trade, the meeting heard.

“A lot of tourists are looking for an authentic experience that teaches them about the culture they are visiting,” said Chris Cocker, Chief Executive Officer of SPTO, which is urging greater innovation in using local products in the tourism sector, and less reliance on imported goods.

The Pacific region is undergoing rapid growth as a tourist destination, with an annual rise of 4.3 percent over the past six years and 2 million visitors in 2016. Between 25 and 35 percent of tourist expenditure is on food and a significant increase in number of local cruises. Since 2014, CTA, PIPSO and partners have been working to highlight the scope for harnessing tourist markets to provide revenues for local farmers and value chain actors in the region.

“The linkage between agriculture and tourism can open up new market opportunities, and serve as a chance for farmers and fishers to showcase their culture,” said Ron Hartman, IFAD Country Director for Indonesia and the Pacific.

Progress on developing agritourism in the Pacific has been identified as a priority to support the local agrifood and tourism industries. In Vanuatu, a survey revealed that 60 percent of food consumed by tourists is imported, all of which could have been produced in-country. Outlining a strategy to ensure that even remote island communities could access tourist revenues, the Acting Director General for Agriculture, Benjamin Shing said it would be a mistake to miss such a valuable opportunity.

“With the advent of tourism in Vanuatu we noticed that a lot of the food eaten is actually imported from outside,” he said. “That has a boomerang effect on the tourist dollar.”

Erratic produce quality and quantity remain key hurdles to overcome, so that Pacific hotels and restaurants have greater incentives to source food products locally, including those from the fisheries sector. “Agritourism and the promotion of using local produce can also be a catalyst to promote agrinutrition for local communities, particularly those engaged/connected in some way to the agritourism sector.,” said Alisi Tuqa, Acting Chief Executive Officer, PIPSO.