THE first of seven agro-tourism farmers' markets planned for Negril was held last Wednesday at Norman Manley Sea Park in that resort town in Westmoreland, kicking off an initiative aimed at strengthening links between the tourism industry and the local agriculture sector.
According to the organisers, the markets, which are being staged at a cost of $10 million -- approved by the Tourism Enhancement Fund -- will be used as a blueprint to establish others in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios.
"The Negril Agro-Tourism Farmers' Market is symbolic of the growing synergy between tourism and non-tourism sectors of the economy," Tourism Minister Dr Wykeham McNeill told guests at the launch last Wednesday.
"It also represents the tourism ministry's continuing efforts to build resilience and sustainability in the industry by ensuring that the economic benefits of tourism trickle down to local communities and positively impact more Jamaicans," McNeill added.
Noting that Jamaica earned US$2 billion from tourism arrivals in 2012, McNeill said given that about one-third of all tourist spending is on food, it makes sense to target agriculture to reduce imports and increase use of locally grown fruits and vegetables.
"This is big money for Jamaica. We want to earn more and keep more earnings here," said McNeill.
The Agro-Tourism Farmers' Market was born out of a partnership between the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment's Tourism Linkages Hub, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Rural Agricultural Development Authority, Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, Jamaica Manufacturers' Association, and Jamaica Business Development Corporation.
In addition to farm-fresh produce, craft items, plants and processed food like honey and condiments were on sale at the market. Patrons were also treated to live entertainment and food demonstrations.
Addressing the launch, Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke said a study commissioned by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation in 2008 estimated that total food purchases by hotels was approximately $16 billion. Of that amount, only $4.8 billion or 30 per cent represented local purchases.
"Our aim is to incrementally increase the local proportions," Clarke said.
"Right here, on our very doorsteps, on our beaches and in our hotels, guesthouses and restaurants, we have a very important market. Our own renowned tourism industry has provided and continues to provide us with a potentially large market," Clarke said, adding that the time is more than overdue to tap into this lucrative market.