Like many Caribbean nations, Barbados faces two distinct crises. On the one hand, the island now imports almost 90% of the food consumed. On the other, levels of obesity and associated diseases have risen, largely because people are eating processed products and calorie-dense foods, most of which are imported. Agritourism, which links farmers and agribusinesses to the tourist market, could play a significant role in tackling both these problems and CTA is working closely with local partners to encourage the growth of the local food market.
For almost two decades, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) has devoted much time to linking farmers and processors with restaurants and hotels, and many leading chefs are now playing an important role in the agritourism movement. “In collaboration with CTA, we have been encouraging chefs to become advocates for food and nutritional security, and to promote local produce in their cuisine,” says Ena Harvey, IICA’s representative in Barbados. “By doing so, they can support our farmers and reduce food imports.”
One of the best known chefs in the region is Peter Edey, whose television programmes regularly attract 15 million viewers in the Caribbean and North America. “I source as much food as I can locally and stress the importance of developing and building on our local cuisine,” he says. His culinary competitions for aspiring chefs have proved hugely popular. “It’s still difficult to get regular supplies of carrots, cabbages and many other things we need but over 80% of the food used in the competitions is locally sourced.” In September 2016, Peter shared his experience at a Brussels Briefing organised by CTA on the potential of tourist markets and the role of young chefs in promoting local foods.
"Fresh produce always taste better"
Damien Hinds, IICA’s national programme technical officer in Barbados, works closely with farmers and farmers’ cooperatives and he is impressed by the changes he has witnessed in recent years. “We are seeing the emergence of a new breed of farmers in Barbados who are thinking about what consumers really want, and adapting their farming strategies to suit the market,” he says. To illustrate his point, he took us on a brief tour of the island.
First port of call was Richard Archer, who has established an aquaponics enterprise in an old sugarcane estate. This is a system of farming which involves growing plants in a soil-less liquid medium which is enriched by the nutrients produced by fish, tilapia in this case. His company, Archer’s Organics, is now supplying around 16 chefs on the island. One of these is Kirk Kirton at the exclusive Fairmont Royal Pavilion. “We chefs all want great fresh ingredients – food you can paint a plaint with,” he says. “Fresh produce always taste better than imported produce, and it has a much longer shelf life.”
But it’s not just tourists who are benefiting from the greater availability of fresh, locally grown produce. Several cooperatives now provide high quality food to restaurants and local families. The oldest of these, St George Farmers Marketing Cooperative Society, runs a busy shop at the Glebe, a settlement near Bridgetown, which sells a wide variety of vegetables and fruit to the general public. Away from the coast and up in the hill country, the Addis Alem Cooperative Society, established by a Rastafarian church, is selling a range of locally produced spicy sauces and ketchups. Most of its members have benefited from training programmes organised by IICA.
In direct contact with hotels, restaurants and markets
Meanwhile, sales of organic food have been steadily rising, stimulated by an increase in demand from tourists and local professionals. Members of the Organic Growers and Consumers Association (OGCA) sell direct to hotels, restaurants and markets and the co-operative has its own shop, which is well patronised by local people. “By around 11.30 in the morning, we will know exactly what vegetables we have and I’ll send a WhatsApp message to various chefs so they can put in their daily order,” explains John Hunte, OGCA’s secretary.
One of John’s neighbours is Dane Saddler, who worked in some of the island’s top restaurants before setting up Caribbean Villa Chefs. Dane’s company provide chefs for villas and restaurants and caters for special events. Many local families now take advantage of his pre-cooked food delivery service. Dishes are largely based on local ingredients. “These are some of the ones we are preparing this week,” he says, bringing up some photographs on his iPhone. They include sweet potato and pulled pork lasagna, a gluten-free dish made with local fresh ingredients, and pepper steak with breadfruit mash.
Initiatives to promote local food
“What you see in Barbados is happening across the Caribbean,” says IICA’s Ena Harvey. It is also happening in the Pacific, thanks in part to activities and partnerships promoted by CTA, which helped to establish the Chefs for Development Initiative in 2016. The initiative’s website has become a storytelling portal for chefs and others involved in promoting local foods.
When Peter Edey and a dozen more chefs met at the 14th Caribbean Week of Agriculture, held in the Cayman Islands in October 2016, they agreed to establish a new culinary network. The following year the Caribbean Culinary Alliance was launched in Barbados by IICA, CTA and leading chefs. It is now helping to promote local food, create closer links with farmers, organise events and provide training for young people in the culinary arts. As a result, says Ena, the agritourism movement can only get stronger.