There was one word that filled the room in this morning’s session. It was – inspiring. Not ‘inspired’ but the progressive form of the word – inspiring. It enlightened us that we can do more for ourselves, our communities and our countries with what we already have.
It wasn’t inspiring because we’ve found ideas to make us better, rich or smarter. It was inspiring because the session was filled with real stories of what’s working and what’s not working on-the-ground and how we can correct or alter what we’re doing for inclusive improvement.
The panel and delegates spoke with a passion so contagious that even if someone without any knowledge of agriculture walked in, would notice, how much agriculture is linked to the people in ACP countries.
SIDS – Smart (Not Small) Island Developing States
Guy Morel, Management and Marketing Expert of the Seychelles Agricultural Agency opened the session with an allusion to a meeting he was in years ago.
Story had it that a representative of the United Arab Emirates stood boldly in a room full of the world’s leading airlines and declared that Emirates would one day be the leading airline in the business. The smirk on the faces of leading airlines reps at the time wasn’t omitted from his story.
It gave it the extra effect actually. Seeing that, now, years later, when Guy made his way to the Pacific’s first ever Agritourism week. Literally on the other side of the world from the Seychelles – Almost the entire flight to Fiji was on – Emirates. Need he say more? Vision! Vision was the fundamental driver to success that Guy was alluding to.
We need to create a vision to shape our attitude. An attitude that expands beyond current circumstances and limitations which we can work towards to achieve standards and platforms that benefits our farmers, agritourism industries, countries and Pacific community as a whole.
With examples from the Seychelles, Guy emphasised how SIDS need to step out of the small mentality and think smart! Think long term and think beyond. Smart not small.
On the other hand, some liked ‘small’ like a centipede – powerful and potent. Nevertheless, the general consensus was that we needed to think big!
Selling our products short was another issue. Why should local be cheaper in our tourism industries? Local commodities should be embraced and sold with a premium price. In the Seychelles, a coconut sells for USD $2.00 each. A Tongan exporter echoed the sentiments and shared how he turned down an export opportunity to Australia that wanted to buy cassava at AUSD $0.69 a piece!
It was evident that there needed to be a mentality shift from ‘foreign is better’ to ‘embracing local’. And in order to achieve this, we need to build our brand. We need to build on the ‘wow’ factor that sets us apart.
Ideas were then formulated around –‘It’s not about the place but it’s about the experience.’ The experience being local of course. Many perspectives across the ACP was shared which a Caribbean delegate then surmised: We need to change our OWN MINDSET, about our OWN FOOD!
Red carpet farmer
This change in mindset inadvertently calls for other changes that will indeed shift the entire general perception of those in the supply chain; vendors, middle-man and most importantly – farmers. Farmers have far too long being prejudiced because of the marred image created by those who’ve gone before them tainting the relationships between them and financial institutions.
A consultant walks into the bank and it’s all smiles. A farmer walks in and attendants are already worried about their repayment ability.
This reality stands but with the proper training, knowledge management and information sharing this can be changed. It is also critical that it is changed as we shift towards embracing local and moving to sustainable Agritourism and Agribusiness that is locally sourced.
Making the right shift
What is more, considering all the shift discussions taking place, we need to be careful that we make the shift that is beneficial and sustainable. More caution is to be taken considering the issues of globalisation, trade agreements and protection of local industries as to who really is benefitting?
We need to think big, we need to think beyond our ‘normal’ but let us not exploit ourselves in the process! Let our inspirations lead us to sustainable aspirations and actions – turning smirks to admiration.
Blogpost by Solomoni Matthewsella, Social Reporter for the Pacific Community AgriTourism Week 2015.