May 20 — The OECS Secretariat says the entire value chain that serves the hospitality/tourism sector to include the activities of farmers, food distributors, and culinary services, craft folk, agro-processors; agriculture farm heritage site operators and food vendors are among those to benefit directly from efforts to further link the agriculture and tourism sectors in the sub-region. The governments of the OECS particularly the Ministries of Agriculture and Tourism in OECS Member States are supporting the development of Agro-tourism as an economic activity with the potential to contribute to rural development and poverty alleviation as well as broaden the economic impact of tourism in OECS economies. George Alcee, Agriculture Economist at the OECS Secretariat is optimistic about anticipated benefits from the establishment of an OECS quality seal will lead to the effective marketing of OECS Agro-tourism products:”The direct beneficiaries of a quality agro-tourism product will be both in agriculture and tourism but primarily: farmers who are engaged in the primary production which must feed into the agro-processors, as well as into the culinary service sector which includes the hotels. Vendors at various culinary festivals which are so well organised in most OECS Member States also stand to benefit.” In fact, the entire value chain, which provides product and service will benefit.” The OECS Agricultural Economist was among delegates at an OECS/FAO workshop facilitated By the Ministry of Agriculture; Saint Lucia entitled “Strengthening the Value Chain that Serves the Hospitality and Tourism Sector in the OECS”. At the workshop stakeholders offered suggestions to help improve the standard of their product from conception to consumption. They also looked at issues regarding a quality seal that meets local, regional and international standards. Alcee says proper attention must be given to food safety to further develop a credible reputation and sustain a lucrative market for agro-tourism product: “The quality product is initiated at the primary production level and once that point and other points along the value chain are strengthened then a wholesome product is ensured as input into the continuing series of complex activities linked to the various actors and enterprises along the chain engaged in trading, assembling processing etc.” Meanwhile, project consultant Kathy Robinson-Pond says there are tremendous opportunities to market OECS agro-tourism products. However specific guidelines must be followed: Definitely, especially with regards to food safety. We have a lot of agro-processors coming on board. We have a lot of vendors. Wherever people are they must eat. With the loss of preferential treatment to bananas and sugar etc, you have persons diversifying into other products. Even for sustainability there are road side vendors selling products and over time, upgrade themselves to spread their product regionally. So there is scope for agro-tourism products getting into the market, not only in the basic fresh produce but also in the spa industry in terms of oils, handmade soaps and natural products that are used for massaging. These things are targeted at the tourist. We have to look at how all these things can maintain their wholesomeness throughout and that’s why we have the safety aspects coming into play and we talk about standards ensuring that they do what they do what is required to maintain the safety of the consumer.” The Saint Lucia leg of national consultations on OECS Agro-tourism project is one of 6 sessions held in OECS Member States. The final national consultation will be held in Dominica followed By a regional meeting in St. Kitts and Nevis from May 25th to 26th..