REELING FROM a near $283-million annual loss from the closure of hotels, the island’s farmers have been given a lifeline in the form of easier access to restaurants and supermarkets to sell their produce
Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett said the Agri-Linkages Exchange (ALEX) Project, which has been the main facilitator between farmers and the tourism market since 2017, has been mandated to assist growers find a market “in these troubling times”.
Bartlett made the announcement at a stakeholders meeting in Kingston last week, where the tourism ministry, through the Tourism Enhancement Fund, donated communication equipment valued at approximately $1.5 million to assist farmers affected by the now-dormant tourism sector, which was their primary market.
“Farmers who supply the tourism industry have been severely impacted by the closure of hotels and attractions, as well as the downturn in businesses from restaurants, due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the minister noted.
“One of our biggest partners in the tourism industry is agriculture. We know at this time the hotels are closed, but, hopefully, for a short time.”
Bartlett added that the need for the ALEX app is more critical now because small farmers who have been producing for the industry would now have an excess in produce and would need an opportunity to connect with other entities where “they know what you have, where you have it and the cost”.
The donation included six laptops and six mobile phones, allowing the six staff members of ALEX to work from home and find new distribution channels for the produce.
With the closure of the hotels, the centre, which is housed at the Rural Agricultural Development Authority’s (RADA) St Andrew office, will be focused on selling the produce to restaurants and supermarkets.
For his part, State Minister in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Floyd Green, welcomed the donation, noting that it would help reduce the large amount of excess produce which would likely have been wasted.
“For the month of March, due to the downturn in tourism, we have approximately 9,000 tonnes of produce that would normally go into the tourism sector that are now an excess. We are talking about billions of dollars that would have been taken up by the tourism sector, that have no place to go,” he pointed out.
“But every challenge presents an opportunity, and we want to thank the Ministry of Tourism for recognising that even in this time of difficulty, we can innovate and strengthen the things we do. Members of the public are being encouraged to utilise the platform to purchase fresh produce in smaller quantities and support the farmers.”
The Agri-Linkages Exchange Project is a joint agreement with the Ministry of Tourism, through the Tourism Linkages Network, and the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture & Fisheries, through RADA. Between January and March 2020, ALEX marketed produce valued at $47,454,000.
It was developed in 2017 to establish a bridge between sellers (farmers) and buyers (tourism stakeholders) to facilitate the exchange of goods.
Through this exchange centre, farmers have had access to a physical space dedicated to calling or emailing about the produce they have available to supply the tourism sector. The centre then markets this information to the hospitality sector and provides support to other key agricultural stakeholders.
There are currently over 400 farmers registered on the platform.