This week on Tongatapu, Tonga’s largest island, a number of activities are under way in Nuku’alofa to improve the livelihoods of farmers by improving their access to the tourism and restaurant markets.

The European Union, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the South Pacific Tourism Organisation are collaborating with the Tonga Ministry of Agriculture Food, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFFF)  to promote Pacific agritourism in an effort to strengthen the links between agriculture and tourism.

Events focus on the theme ‘Linking farmers to hoteliers to improve nutritional and financial health’, expanding income opportunities for smallholders by connecting them to new domestic market opportunities.

Specifically, the Tonga event is themed: ‘Think global, go local: Developing access, promoting local cuisine and ensuring healthy living!’ in line with the European Union Year of Development theme for the month of April on healthy living.

The week began with a farmers’ training, which was opened by the Hon. Semisi Fahakau, Minister for Agriculture, Food, Forestry and Fisheries, on Monday 20 April. This was followed by a seminar at the University of the South Pacific campus on Tuesday.

A highlight of the week is the Tonga Culinary Training Workshop (22–24 April), hosted by international celebrity chef, Robert Oliver.

“With more of a local menu, they then use more local foods. So the menus would contain Pacific friendly food,” Mr Oliver said.

Included in the culinary workshop is the buyers-sellers mart being held at the Ahopanilolo Institute, Nuku’alofa, for more than 40 farmers and tourism operators, primarily restaurant chefs.

The mart is similar to ‘speed dating’; over a two-hour period, farmers talk with chefs in ten-minute sessions to get to know each other, exchange ideas and discuss any direct supply opportunities.

On Thursday, there was practical training in the kitchen for local chefs, who will use their new skills and local produce to prepare a gala dinner on Friday, showcasing an array of local contemporary dishes.

The Chief Executive Officer of Tonga MAFFF, Losaline Ma’asi, said that a growing dependence on imported foods is posing a major threat to Pacific Island nations, where 80 per cent of the population is directly or indirectly dependent on the agriculture sector as a major source of livelihood.

“We are importing more and have a limited capacity for the smallholder sector of agriculture to supply and satisfy the needs of the domestic market,” Mrs Ma’asi said.

“That means it is a major challenge to encourage more commercial production through sustained access to competitive markets. Having more local foods, livestock and fish used by local restaurants is an effective way to combat the large amount of food they import,” she said.

The South Pacific Tourism Organisation is facilitating the participation of tourism operators, with a focus on chefs, for the three-day culinary workshop.

The week is supported by the Pacific Agriculture Policy Project (PAPP), implemented by SPC’s Land Resources Division. It is part of a broader European Union partnership under the 10th European Development Fund with the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP).

Media access: Media are invited to the cover all the agritourism events.

Media contacts: Emil Adams PAPP Information and Communication Management Officer +679 7263969

Tonga Contact: Luseane Taufa, Head of Food Section, MAFFF; contact: (676) 8734843