Hosted in Barbados, the 2nd Caribbean Agribusiness Forum was held earlier this month and featured Women in Business Development’s associate director Alberta Vitale, Milani and Paddles chef Dora Rossi and chef and author Robert Oliver.
Vitale said in designing Organic Farm to Table, there were three key audiences – the farmers, the chef/restaurant/hotel owners, and the consumer.
“We know our farmers well but we also have to know the needs of restaurants and hotel owners. For them consistency and reliability was a concern. For the consumer, it is mainly that they were interested in getting a more authentic Samoan food experience.”
Samoa’s Farm to Table is adapted from a system designed by Robert Oliver, who developed it in Barbados where he was the executive chef for several resorts.
The programme started at the end of 2013 with seed funding from the United Nations Development Fund. The programme now has 23 restaurants and hotels with over 60 farmers supplying weekly orders.
Vitale said food is described as a gateway to culture. “For us, organic food is a gateway to not just our culture but also our environmental health.”
Chef Rossi is an Organic Farm to Table customer for both Milani and Paddles Restaurants.
She said she was surprised to see how far ahead Samoa’s Farm to Table programme is compared to the Caribbean in regards to trying to counter imports. She said the programme had grown from its small beginnings.
“As you may expect there were some teething problems as most farmers do not dine in restaurants and even WIBDI staff were not fully aware of restaurant expectations in terms of quality consistency and timely delivery.
“As a business owner I sat through these teething problems as we all had the same goal: Making Samoan tourism sustainable whilst spreading wealth to as many families as possible.
“You know the truth is that most tourists just want a great tasty meal. If it comes with the benefit of locally sourced produce, then it’s a bonus but my job as a chef and a business owner is to find creative ways to please their palates support the farmers and make a buck at the same time.”
Rossi says chefs have upped their game in Samoa. “Through Robert Oliver’s work, book and TV series we all have accepted the challenge to produce the best tasting dishes in the Pacific.”
Oliver, who is a strong advocate of using local products in Pacific cuisine, is a leading member of the Chefs for Development platform. Highlighting the similarities between Caribbean and Pacific islands, Oliver said opportunities were being missed to tap the tourist market.
“In all small island countries, without exception, a large industry is tourism and agriculture, so if tourism is connected to agriculture, you have an opportunity for farmers to supply hotels. It’s a missed opportunity in most cases,” he said.
“In the Caribbean and Pacific there’s a similar picture because lots of food is imported for tourism. Chefs have a big role to play in the economies of countries, when tourism is the biggest industry and farmers are often unable to access that industry.”
Oliver is due to return to Samoa next year to work more intensively with Women in Business Development on its Organic Farm to Table programme.
“I love working in Samoa with the many dynamic and passionate people there, so I am so pleased to be able to get the opportunity again to see what I can do to assist and support.”
Ena Harvey, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) representative for Barbados and agritourism specialist, said that there was an urgent need to make stronger connections between agriculture, the agri-processing sector and the tourism industry.
“It’s not happening enough. The agritourism linkage is one of the most direct ways to impact poverty. It means that a farming family can stay on the land, a farmer can stay in agriculture, revenues increase and there are employment opportunities for women and young people. There is a multiplier effect.”
Isolina Boto is manager of the CTA Brussels Office and project leader for regional trade. She says there is a need to upgrade farmers’ supply chains to larger hotels and resorts and stimulate demand of local products and its use by chefs, who can promote ways to more creatively utilise local produce by the hospitality sector and promote local cuisine.
The 2nd Caribbean Agribusiness Forum, was organized by CTA, Caribbean AgriBusiness Association, and IICA, in collaboration with the Barbados Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management and the Barbados Tourism Product Authority. The Caribbean-Pacific Agri-Food Forum is funded by the European Union through the Intra-ACP Agricultural Policy Programme.