Like many remote islands blessed with natural beauty and temperate weather, the economy of the South Pacific nation Vanuatu is underpinned by tourism as well as agriculture.
Both of these sectors were devastated by Cyclone Pam, a category five cyclone that struck the archipelago of 80 islands just four years ago.
Yet, as Vanuatu continues to rebuild the affected provinces, there is an enormous opportunity both to help the economy recover and to build resilience for the future by linking local, small-scale agriculture with international tourism. In Vanuatu, as in other popular destinations across Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific, farming and tourism can support one another while making our holidays more sustainable.
According to one survey, for example, 60 percent of food consumed by tourists in Vanuatu was imported, all of which could have been produced in-country. Food makes up to 35 percent of tourists’ spending.
Local producers may not be able to compete with major exporters who dominate hotel and restaurant supplies, but even just a small increase in locally-sourced produce within the hospitality sector can make an enormous difference to the small-scale farmers and other value chain actors.
So how can we encourage the tourism industry to work with local agriculture to increase demand for regional ingredients and boost farm livelihoods, making both sectors more resilient and sustainable?
Firstly, as tourists, we can support the economies of the countries we visit by choosing local produce. Learning more about local ingredients, food traditions, and farmers’ practices can help tourists choose meals and food more likely to be locally sourced, which has several benefits. Not only are ingredients grown nearby likely to be fresher and cheaper, they also provide incomes for rural communities and have a lower environmental impact. Opting for locally caught fish or locally grown staple crops, for example, rather than imported produce, demonstrates a demand that helps keep local producers in business.
Secondly, tourist boards and government agencies can leverage local food markets and festivals, working with chefs as a way to enhance both cultural experiences for tourists and the prospects of producers. In Vanuatu, the restoration of Port Vila harbor after Cyclone Pam incorporated new space for a food market, designed to greet cruise ships as they arrived at the capital. This presented the perfect opportunity for tourists to enjoy Vanuatan cuisine and delicacies while also supporting local producers.
Finally, island nations and governments can adopt formal policies that prioritize local produce for all national and international events, sending a clear message not only to visitors and guests but to farmers and producers, as well, that farming is vital to local economies.
The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) has supported the Vanuatu government and other Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in adopting such policies, which set an example for the hospitality sector and their procurement priorities. Locally-sourced food is served at all official government events in Vanuatu, which raises the profile of regional ingredients and cuisine while also supporting local agriculture.
With increased scrutiny over the environmental impact of travel, the momentum for more sustainable global tourism is growing. But sustainable tourism can take many forms. In countries where food production is so integral to social and economic well-being, supporting agriculture and smallholder farmers will become increasingly important to help small island nation economies thrive.
Isolina Boto is project leader on agritourism for development at the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and co-ordinator of Chefs for Development.
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