KINGSTON, July 3 (JIS): Tourism and Entertainment Minister, Hon. Dr. Wykeham McNeill, says the strengthening of linkages between tourism and agriculture has the potential to boost both sectors and reduce the country’s food import bill.
He said a demand study conducted by the Tourism Linkages Hub, housed in the Ministry, indicates that tourism can potentially generate the “greatest benefits” for farmers and the suppliers of local produce.
Dr. McNeill was addressing tourism and agriculture interests at the first in a series of Tourism Linkages Hub stakeholders’ consultations held recently at the Golf View Hotel in Mandeville, Manchester.
Noting that the tourism industry is “doing quite well,” welcoming some 3.5 million stopover and cruise ship visitors over the past two years, he said the sector has also attracted “significant levels of investments” with an additional 5,500 hotel rooms earmarked for development over the next three years.
Dr. McNeill said the Government is looking to translate the success of the sector to other segments of the society, including the agricultural sector.
He argued that by producing food and selling it to the hotels, attractions, and guest houses, the money stays in Jamaica and reduces imports.
“That’s what we want to do…that’s how we are going to grow the economy of Jamaica, and that’s how we are going to enrich Jamaicans,” the Minister said.
Dr. McNeill said that for the linkage to work, all stakeholders must collaborate to determine the produce needed, and how these will the supplied in terms of volume, quality, cost, and timelines.
“I have said to the hub that we are going to put the systems in place. They have done the demand study; I have gone through it… (but) more work needs to be done; we are going to have to drill down even more into this area (agriculture),” Dr. McNeill said.
“The opportunities are there; it’s up to us to really push and do it,” he added.
In his remarks, Agriculture, Labour and Social Security Minister, Hon. Derrick Kellier, said the agro-tourism linkage is an idea “whose time has come.”
He commended Dr. McNeill on his vision to establish the linkages hub, and the focus on increasing the supply of local produce to the tourism market.
“Dr. McNeill and his team truly understand that cuisine is, indeed, a major component of the tourism and hospitality industry, and that market, therefore, is an attractive and lucrative one for the agricultural sector,” he noted.
Mr. Kellier said a close examination of Jamaica’s high food import bill shows that a large proportion of the products brought in goes to the tourism sector.
“We believe, however, that Jamaican produce and our renowned cuisine must be a part of the menu provided in our hotels and resorts. We, therefore, welcome every strategy that will enable us to increase our supply to a market that has come right into our front room,” he stated.
Mr. Kellier added that: “Jamaica can only prosper on a sustainable basis when we develop and maintain linkages to ensure that every industry and economic activity allows as many people as possible, to prosper.”
Over 50 representatives of public and private sector institutions and interests attended the meeting.