“What would you require from me? What can I get my network to grow for you? What is more convenient for you? “, Maria Linibi, President of Papua New Guinea Women in Agriculture asked as she went on her date.
Wait! Date? Who asks these kinds of questions on a date? Of course, everyone thinks of a date as the first steps to a long-lasting relationship. Well, Maria did go on a date, but it was not the typical ordinary date that we know. This was a speed-dating – “farmer-chef” version. Every 10 minutes, each farmer had to swap to another chef, and the dating process continued.
Maria is one example of a farmer network representative. Her questions were directed to Elizabeth Sibisopere, a budding entrepreneur who owns and runs her Catering Company called “Local Spot” and is also a pâtissier by profession, with and over 10 years of Hotel Industry Experience.
The two ladies engaged in the 10-minutes’ conversation, exchanging on challenges faced, requirements, successes, networking opportunities and advise. By the end of the date, email and mobile contacts were exchanged, hands shaken and Elizabeth moved on to her next farmer, while Maria welcomed her new 10-minutes’ date Chef.
In the room, you can see the bubbly interactions taking place between these two groups of the different ends of the value chain.
Constraints and challenges identified
It is one thing telling our farmers to think “AgriBusiness” but how much of the Business part do they know? Rosivela, from the Fiji Crops and Livestock Council (FCLC) pointed out that many farmers lack book-keeping skills, financial literacy and business management skills. He stated that farmers need to be educated in these areas prior to being exposed to open markets, so that they are able to better manage their agribusiness. Many fail to plan and when off-season comes, there is nothing to supply. Managing their business gives them opportunities to invest for the off-season, such as purchasing a greenhouse.
The usual constraints of transport factors for the farmer to bring their produce to the hotel seemed to be a consistent challenge for many of the farmers. Praneet Prasad, a Fijian Farmer from Lautoka, shares that it all comes back to changing the mindset of the hotel operators and those who make the purchasing decisions. They need to take that extra step to visit the farms, to visit the roadside markets, to see what is available locally before their next import purchase.
“In such information exchange sessions, there should be two chairs, one for the chef and one for the purchasing officer. In the end, it’s the purchasing officer who makes the decision to buy, not the chef.”
For William Henry Wilder and Melite Teetan, chefs based in Kiribati, because of the condition of soils in Kiribati, most of their vegetable produced are supplied by outer Pacific islands such as Hawaii, which is 4 hours by plane. Sometimes the vegetables that they receive are not in good condition, but are limited to what can be supplied.
Innovations with moving forward
Ena Harvey, of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) shared success stories of Culinary Tourism in the Caribbean; how this niche sector of Tourism is a booming Industry and that the Pacific should devote time into creating innovative events to reach out to these tourists.
“All Tourists eat. Many want to savour and remember the experience of being in a foreign destination through their tastebuds. Turn your farm into a culinary destination. Attract the tourist to you. That is a free form of exporting, when the tourist buys a product from you and takes it back to their country.”
The “dating” exchange created further opportunities for networking, relationships and knowledge sharing. Not only between the farmer and the chef but also amongst the farmers’ and chefs’ respective groups. Ideas exchanged to improve farming practices, skill transfer to the next generation and the use of technology to improve way of doing things.
The Pacific AgriTourism Week has proved to be mine of knowledge waiting to be extracted. Once refined, we may see a “paradigm shift” in the two sectors that matter most to the Pacific.
Blogpost by Carole Cholai, Social Reporter for the Pacific Community AgriTourism Week 2015.