The Jamaica Tourism Agri-Linkages Exchange (ALEX) pilot project has assisted 400 local farmers with the marketing of approximately 360,000 kg of agricultural produce valued at over $39 million.
ALEX, which is a joint initiative of the Ministry of Tourism and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), is the first online platform of its kind in the country. It brings hoteliers in direct contact with the farmers and, in turn, reduce leakages and retain more of the economic benefits of tourism in Jamaica.
The platform, which can be found at agrilinkages.com, allows farmers to plan to adequately address seasonality in crops; and provide information as it relates to geographic location of specific crops.
Speaking on Wednesday, at the opening of the Tourism Agri-Linkages Exchange (ALEX) Centre, housed at RADA’s St Andrew office, Tourism Minister, Hon. Edmund Bartlett said, “We are excited about this initiative because it removes the issues of the communication gaps that exist. It puts us in a position to say that wherever the farmers are, they can produce and sell to the hotels because ALEX is there to connect you.”
He also noted that, “It will remove the arguments from the hoteliers who say ‘I don’t know where your goods are or I don’t know who your farmers are.’ It invites a level of organization, so that even though ALEX will connect individual farmers, the logic of the arrangement will suggest that farmers can come together and create a critical mass that will enable a certitude of flows into the industry at all times.”
The Minister also used the opportunity to encourage farmers to develop the capacity to produce more goods at a quality standard and price to remain competitive.
“We can produce far more…but the cost of producing the goods and services in Jamaica have to change radically so that we can be competitive. Price competitiveness is critical to be able to absorb the demand of tourism and other industries of this nature.
We can always talk about what can be done, but we have to create the mechanism to enable it to happen. Our costs must be lower. Our prices must be competitive. Our quality must be at the highest level and our availability to supply must be consistent,” said the Minister.
Commenting on the success of the initiative, RADA’s CEO Peter Thompson, shared that since the inception of ALEX, the number of participants and success stories are continuously growing.
“We had targeted 200 farmers in the pilot but we have achieved 400. The number of buyers and traders we have targeted was 80 but we are now at 100. We have networked with 55 hotels, 8 exporters, 7 restaurants, 20 agro-processors and 10 supermarkets. The numbers are still growing,” said Thompson.
The Ministry of Tourism, through the Tourism Enhancement Fund renovated the ALEX Centre and contracted a developer for the website at a cost of $7,728,400.
Through this exchange centre, farmers will have access to a physical space dedicated to calling or emailing the produce they have available to supply the tourism sector. The Centre will then market this information to the hospitality sector and provide support to other key agricultural stakeholders.
The Minister noted that the ultimate goal will be to increase by 20% the number of farmers having continuous trade relationship with the hotel and tourism sector and decrease by 15% the imports of fresh produce to the hotel and tourism sector.