Huge earning potential for indigenous craft
Claudia Gardner, Hospitality Jamaica Writer
When many Jamaicans think of agro-tourism linkages, foremost in their thoughts is foods such as fruits and vegetables grown for consumption, being sold to the tourism sector. However, there is vast potential in the linkages that can be made, and are being made, between the tourism and agricultural sectors in Jamaica through what is termed by experts as 'non-food indigenous products'.
A study conducted in 2010 by Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) Hemispheric Agrotourism Specialist, Ena Harvey, classified non-food indigenous products as those commodities, including crafts, which are derived from local agricultural materials such as animal skins, leaves, pods, seeds, roots and grasses, and designed with art and materials depicting local themes. These also include nutraceuticals, massage oil and spa products.
Harvey said in the study that "a portion of tourists' spend is always dedicated to the purchase of locally produced products that are typical for the country, population or landscape, as a remembrance of the visit, a token of moments shared with loved ones, or as an authentic gift to friends and family back home".
She said the potential demand for authentic local craft as souvenirs can be estimated from tourism statistics of visitor arrivals' at a "conservative estimate of US$5 per gift for 10 per cent of total numbers of visitors".
In the case of Jamaica, which saw just over three million land and cruise ship visitors gracing its shores in 2011, potential earnings would have been more than US$1.5 million for that year.
"Natural products used are indicative of an herbal base which has a strong competitive edge in the Caribbean. The manufacture of nutraceuticals, essential oils, massage oils and spa products is directly linked to the agricultural production of crops such as crabwood, coconut, ginger, nutmeg, hot pepper, aloe, cerasee, organic sugar cane, cinnamon, and noni," Harvey's report said.
Jamaica is world-renowned for its various wood craftsmanship. Wood carvings which are very popular in Jamaican craft markets, which have mainly been made popular by members of the Rastafari faith. Presently, opportunities abound for farmers and persons who have unutilised land, who want to earn an income, by supplying local woodcarvers with lumber, as the Ministry of Agriculture's Forestry Department offers a longstanding Private Planting Programme to landowners. Under the programme, the Forestry Department offers free seedlings and technical expertise for a range of trees including mahogany, neem, cedar, pink and yellow poui among others.
According to the Forestry Department, "After trees are established, growers may benefit from tax concessions and with certification from the Conservator (of Forests), growers may be eligible for duty concessions on the acquisition of farm vehicles/equipment.
"To date, smallholder farmers have been the main beneficiaries of the Private Planting Programme. However, the Forestry Department is now attempting to recruit into the Private Planting Programme landowners whose main income at present is not derived from their land. Such persons are more likely to be financially able to make the longer-term investment which forestry requires," the organisation posted on its official website.
The retail arm of the Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC), Things Jamaican, is perhaps the most crucial player in the linkage of non-food indigenous products to tourism in the island. With six stores across the island, the entity, which was established by the Government of Jamaica in the 1960s in a bid to 'bring structure to the craft industry', retails bath and body products, candles, fragrances, wood carvings, wooden craft items, jewellery, dolls, and wooden kitchen items made by Jamaican artisans using authentic Jamaican material. Many of the producers are supported by the JBDC's Craft Incubator which offers physical space for the development of prototypes as well as for production.