Minister of Tourism, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, has urged Jamaican farmers to capitalise on the Agri-linkages Exchange (ALEX) platform, which he says will be a huge catalyst in equipping them to reap the benefits of tourism’s success.

Mr. Bartlett said the platform, which was set up to facilitate the purchase and exchange of goods between farmers and buyers within the hotel industry, will result in an increase in the use of local produce in tourism enterprises, and support the national thrust to reduce imports.

The Minister was speaking at the launch of the ALEX platform at the Montego Bay Convention Centre on December 13.

“With the help of ALEX, we are leveraging technology to bring hoteliers in direct contact with the farmers, and in turn reduce leakages and retain more of the economic benefits of tourism in Jamaica,” Mr. Bartlett said.

“When you think that about one-third of all visitor spend is on food, it makes sense to target agriculture to reduce imports and increase the use of locally grown fruits and vegetables,” he further explained.

The Minister also implored farmers to seize the opportunities which abound, by providing a reliable supply of high-quality food “every day of the year” to players in the industry, as the “phenomenal growth in the tourism sector” has created a larger market for fresh produce.

He said the synergy between the agriculture and tourism sectors underscores the Government’s commitment to bring all segments together to ensure responsible tourism that brings benefits to the “wider society” by deepening the linkages among agriculture, manufacturing, gastronomy, health and wellness, sports and others.

Agriculture and tourism, in particular, he argued, offer the best opportunities for inclusive economic growth.

“The launch of ALEX represents my Ministry’s continuing efforts to build resilience and sustainability in the industry by ensuring the economic benefits of tourism reach communities and positively impact more Jamaicans,” he said.

Mr. Bartlett said the Ministry of Tourism, through the Linkages Network, will be driving several initiatives to build the capacity of local farmers in their bid to meet the needs of the hospitality and tourism sector.

The initiatives include an Entrepreneurial Training and Coaching Programme, and a berry farming development project geared at preparing farmers to support hoteliers’ needs for fresh, high-quality strawberries, raspberries and blueberries.

He indicated that an updated Tourism Demand Study, which will provide the empirical data to allow for the effective planning and identification of goods and services in the tourism sector, is being prepared and will be ready for release in March 2018.

Mr. Bartlett expressed confidence that the Gastronomy Network, under the leadership of former Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) President, Nicola Madden-Greig, will achieve its set goals, as its recent initiatives, which include the launch of the Jamaica Blue Mountain Culinary Tour and the Taste of Jamaica mobile app, will help to position the country as a “first-class tourist and gastronomic destination”.

“Jamaica is fortunate to be blessed with gastronomic offerings born out of the rich diversity of our heritage, which make us ideally positioned to take advantage of the growing phenomenon of culinary travel,” the Minister said.