Applause for the Tourism Linkages Network

Monday, December 17, 2018

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A concern for Jamaican governments over many years has been to find a way to increase the use of local goods and services in the tourism industry.

In the context of agriculture, the colourful sector minister, Mr Audley Shaw, has repeatedly complained that “it is painful for us to be bragging that we have record tourist arrivals, and yet many of these planes that carry the tourists are also carrying the food to feed them”.

The argument from Mr Shaw, with support from Tourism Minister Mr Edmund Bartlett, is that Jamaican farmers should be meeting the needs of the tourism industry while helping the country to save huge sums in foreign exchange.

All of this brings us to the Tourism Linkages Network which was set up in June 2013 with funding from the Tourism Enhancement Fund. It was meant to target the “development and strengthening of sustainable linkages between the tourism sector and other productive sectors of the economy — such as agriculture, manufacturing and entertainment...”

A Jamaica Information Service story on the weekend tells us that the linkages network has been strengthening connections between hoteliers and farmers leading to increased demand and consumption of locally produced food by tourists.

Crucially, an online pilot project — described as the first of its kind in the country — Tourism Agri-Linkages Exchange (ALEX), set up as a joint initiative of the Ministry of Tourism and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), has “assisted 400 local farmers with the marketing of approximately 360,000 kilogrammes of produce valued at over $39 million”.

We are told that the online platform, “which can be found at agrilinkages.com, allows farmers to plan in order to adequately address crop seasonality and provide information as it relates to geographic location of specific produce”.

Further to this, an Agri-Linkages Exchange Centre, opened recently at RADA's St Andrew Parish Office on Old Hope Road, is meant to ensure that even those farmers who are not online will benefit directly from the linkages.

As explained by director of the Tourism Linkages Network Ms Carolyn McDonald-Riley: “We are aware that a number of our farmers are not yet on an electronic platform, so the agro-marketing brokers at the centre will assist them through the process. So, the farmers are able to call in and indicate how much produce they have and the brokers are able to put it on the site, giving the hospitality sector access to the information.”

We find equally exciting, word from Ms McDonald-Riley that the linkages network is providing technical and resource support for farmers who supply hotels with strawberries. The berry is not familiar to most Jamaicans but is a prized delicacy for North Americans and Europeans.

In recent years, some farmers in the cooler upland areas of eastern and central Jamaica have found that strawberry production for the visitor industry can be very profitable.

Ms McDonald-Riley says an objective of the linkages network is to help strawberry farmers increase supply to the tourism industry from eight per cent to 20 per cent.

In this space and elsewhere there is often reason to criticise Jamaica's leaders for alleged mismanagement and misdeeds. We daresay that in relation to the Tourism Linkages Network, they deserve applause.


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