There is a large role tourism can play in changing mindsets to better support host destinations and communities through food tourism and agritourism experiences. The FTA Initiative will be taking on a further 30 Indigenous Ni Vanuatu entrepreneurs as well as working with expatriate and foreign owned tourism businesses to further build the food tourism and agritourism sector to change the perceptions of tourists to expect and seek out Vanuatu’s traditional local cuisine and venture out into our rural agricultural communities, thereby enhancing the livelihoods of rural communities.
Vanuatu’s dependence on tourism has undermined subsistence capacities leaving many communities and households, particularly in urban settings, becoming dependent and vulnerable. With the absence of formal safety nets in Vanuatu, informal community and culturally based social protection systems (brought about through the traditional economy) are vital. The Vanuatu Government recognises the importance of the traditional economy as being essential in increasing the diversity, resilience and wellbeing of local communities being instrumental in the future protection from external threats such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crises. Recent research shows although COVID-19 has had far-reaching socio- economic consequences, Pacific peoples do not see themselves as victims – rather, they are engaged in a dynamic process of reflection and adaptation, thus decision-makers should support them and be receptive to ideas they have for future development. The evaluation of the piloting of the FTA Initiative supports these findings as the success of the initiative to date is attributed to the Participatory Action Research approach enabling participants involved in the initiative to be part of a dynamic process of reflection and adaptation. The initiative has also worked alongside the traditional economy instead of against it by supporting participants to develop sustainable livelihood activities that enable continued access to customary lands and increased engagement in their communities.
In light of these findings the FTA Initiative is now conducting Participatory Action Research in collaboration with the Vanuatu Agritourism Association and the Vanuatu Bureau of Standards to develop criteria for membership and standards for food tourism and agritourism businesses that are aligned to the Vanuatu Sustainable Tourism Policy (2019-2030) objectives, Global Sustainable Tourism Council, Sustainable Development Goals, Regenerative Organic Agriculture, and POETCom Pasifika Organic. Participatory Action Research tools such as the Agritourism Dimensions Framework and storian sessions are being applied to evaluate communities, industry, and Government values, perceptions and recommendations for agritourism. These findings will be analysed and cross referenced with regional and global standards for sustainable agriculture and tourism.
The FTA initiative will also be conducting awareness on the importance of protecting traditional gardening systems and the potential to develop agritourism experiences around these systems. In 2002, the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) started the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) initiative to establish recognition for the conservation and adaptive management of traditional agricultural systems (FAO, 2009). Raising the profile on these traditional agricultural farming systems through GIAHS recognition and agritourism development can help encourage tourists to seek them out for their cultural significance. The FTA initiative will be using PAR to gather information around the unique traditional stories behind Vanuatu’s food culture. The FTA initiative will be supporting over 90 food tourism and agritourism operators to develop their meal plans aligning with the theme of their Agritourism business whether it be a restaurant, cultural or farm tour or others and supporting the slow food movement.
The FTA Initiative will be further supporting the Vanuatu Government to lead the transition in the conceptualisation of Agritourism amongst key donors and organizations operating in the South Pacific from seeing agritourism as a strategy to support the supply of fresh produce to resorts to a key rural livelihood strategy that supports meaningful engagement of rural island communities in tourism while meeting a multitude of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s