A regional agricultural specialist is advising Government to make it mandatory for tourism operators here to use local produce in their operations.
Addressing a lunchtime lecture put on by the Rural Development Commission (RDC) at the Queen’s Park Steel Shed on Friday on the topic Grow What You Eat/Invest in Food Security, Sub-regional Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Dr Lystra Fletcher-Paul warned that Barbados’ food import bill was simply too high.
Therefore, she said, it was the responsibility of households, Government and the private sector to ensure the country’s food supply was secure and of high quality, while driving down the near half a billion dollar food import costs.
“In our hotels local foods should be served because tourists come to our shores for the local experience,” Fletcher-Paul said.
“There should be incentives to the private sector investors to purchase and serve food that is grown locally. In the same way that Government gives tax shelters to hotel chains, they should also include a clause which states that a certain percentage of the food that is served should be grown locally. This could be implemented through establishing contracts through local farmers’ groups,” she said.
“To me, if a hotel is coming into your country and looking to invest in the country, I see nothing wrong with the Government saying ‘as part of the whole package, as good cooperate citizens could you then include a section that says that a certain percentage of the food you serve in your hotel should come from local farmers, and establish contracts with those local farmers?’”
She said this meant, however, that an enabling environment would have to be put in place to allow for smooth flow of supply to meet demands, and systems to allow for timely payment.
While stating that careful planning of the production was also necessary, the agriculture official suggested that farmers would have to produce consistently at high quality and quantity.
“So it also means that the farmers associations have to be well organized,” she said, adding that there would have to be an agreement in relation to which farmers would produce what quantity of each product for the tourism sector.
“We seem to assume that when tourists come to our shores they want to eat the same things they are eating in their own homes. A lot of them want the local experience. So provide them with the local experience by growing what we eat and let them eat what we grow,” insisted Fletcher-Paul.
She singled out Government as one of the biggest culprits when it came to using imported as opposed to locally produce at its various functions, adding that she hoped locally food items were being served in “prison, hospitals and schools”.
She urged parents to also encourage their children to get involved in helping to grow what they consume, while insisting that Government’s role was mainly to provide an enabling environment to encourage investment, while facilitating food and nutrition security and access to healthy and affordable food.
Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Agriculture Society (BAS) James Paul told Barbados TODAY while he agreed a system was needed to encourage more use of locally produced foods in the tourism sector, it would require “the cooperation of all tourism stakeholders”.
“It is not across the board that people are not interested in using local produce. It might come to the point where we have to look and see whether or not we are giving the correct incentives for people to be able to do it, and how do we shape an incentive to actually produce a result that we want to produce,” said Paul, who suggested that Government examines the possibility of rewarding private sector businesses and those in the tourism industry that utilize local products more.
At the same time, the BAS head said Barbados risked criticism from international agencies who may argue that Government was engaging in preferential treatment.
However, Paul said by using more locally produced items there were a number of benefits to individuals, farmers and the country.
“One, it conserves foreign exchange; it also encourages Barbadians to eat healthier and it also provides a market for locally produced agricultural goods. I believe that if that market is there you would see more production, but we need the cooperation of the hoteliers and it just cannot be a Government responsibility,” Paul said.