Chefs and culinary professionals have a unique role to play in agricultural development, according to Michael Hailu, director of the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation.
Speaking this week at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture in the Cayman Islands, Mr. Hailu said chefs and culinary professionals connect local producers and consumers and understand food origin and history. “They can promote local cuisine and provide consumers and tourists with the best of local products. It is also a sector with significant economic and employment opportunities as shown in many parts of the world.”
Together with the Caribbean Agri-Business Association and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation organized an annual agribusiness forum with the aim of identifying tangible opportunities in new markets and promoting links between the agri-food sector and the tourism industry to increase sustainable local sourcing.
In addition, the organizations have launched a program to strengthen the ties between the culinary profession and agriculture.
“Working with celebrity chefs from the Caribbean and the Pacific, IICA and CTA with many other partners have launched an exciting program, Chefs for Development, which supports the training of young local chefs on using and promoting local supplies and ingredients to produce high quality dishes,” Mr. Hailu said.
Several people have been trained in the expanding program, and an online platform has been set up to share best practices in promote local cuisine.
Mr. Hailu said transformation of the agricultural sector is critical in addressing many of the challenges facing the Caribbean region.
“The large and growing food import bill is not only a drain on the region’s foreign exchange, but it deprives it of opportunities for economic diversification and job creation, especially for young people, in farming and food processing industries.”
The lack of investment in the food and agriculture sector is a significant constraint for many Caribbean producers. The theme of this year’s conference is “Investing in Food and Agriculture.”
Marketed and distributed properly, quality fresh agri-food products can be dynamic sources of jobs and income, Mr. Hailu said, provided that farming businesses can access the finance and development support they need to turn them into profitable ventures.
The Centre for Agricultural Cooperation has focused on improving coordination in value chains with the greatest potential and facilitating access to development services such as finance.
“Some of the most encouraging results of our work involves linking producers to private financial institutions, and I believe there is tremendous scope for building on this approach in the future,” Mr. Hailu said.