Jamaica Observer / Sandals Resorts International (SRI) has commended Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett and Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw for what it described as an “exciting initiative” to ensure that more locally produced items are consumed by the hotel sector as opposed to imports. At the same time, SRI Chairman Gordon “Butch” Stewart has urged his fellow hoteliers to support the call to buy local first, saying that it will not only create a huge impact for the sector, but have significant economic gains for the country as a whole.

“Furthermore, it will have the added benefits of allowing the farming community to upgrade and modernise their production capacity, while the hotels themselves enjoy huge dividends,” added Stewart, who is also chairman of the Jamaica Observer .

Noting that Jamaica has vast acreage of fertile land, the all-inclusive resort chain said that encouraging a closer working relationship between the country’s farmers and its hotel sector will only redound to the benefit of all.

Sandals said that it understands first-hand the amazing benefits that can be derived from such a partnership, having been amongst the first hotels to engage the country’s farmers, to the point that the resort chain now consumes five million pounds of local farm produce annually.

“In fact, Sandals Deputy Chairman Adam Stewart, in his role as chairman of Jamaica’s Tourism Linkages Council, has long championed the need for greater partnerships between local suppliers and the hotel sector,” SRI said in a statement.

“It is this mandate that guides the work of Group Director for Procurement Jordan Samuda to ensure that Sandals buys local first, wherever possible. Indeed, 90 per cent of the total volume of produce purchased in Jamaica every year are locally produced items. The total annual value of produce purchased by Sandals is $700 million, with farm products representing $500 million of that. On the other hand, the hotel spends just $200 million on products local farmers are unable to grow,” SRI said.

The statement quoted “Butch” Stewart as saying that there is no better partnership than one forged between agriculture and tourism, as he commended the efforts of ministers Bartlett and Shaw.

“Both ministers have taken a key step by working together to encourage and promote agriculture in Jamaica in a manner that I have never seen in my 37 years as a hotelier,” Stewart said. “It is heartening to see them put the weight of their respective ministries behind such an initiative, and along with Finance Minister Nigel Clarke, and under the guidance of Prime Minister Andrew Holness, we have a very powerful team doing what is necessary to make things better for the farmers, the hotel sector, and Jamaica.”

Added Stewart: “This is a breath of fresh air for us at Sandals. We know only too well the success that comes from allowing our guests to enjoy local products. Giving them fresh, locally produced items is not only tastier, it’s healthier. Sandals pours approximately 3.8 million cups of Blue Mountain coffee each year in Jamaica, and the guests always call for more. Farm to table is the only way to go, and we currently engage 180 local farmers through our procurement Division.”

He expressed confidence that the hotel sector will cooperate with the Government, saying: “This is an important initiative because it means the distribution of wealth from tourism goes quickly into the various communities involved. The fact is the tourist dollar is one that can be very quickly distributed among all sectors; for instance, when hotels enjoy a great weekend with lots of guests, the farmers immediately benefit because there is greater consumption and, therefore, higher demand for their produce. It’s a partnership designed to make dreams come true for the farming community, for the guests who want fresh produce, as well as the incredible chefs from all walks of life who operate in Jamaica.”

Stewart also noted the non-stop efforts being made by Bartlett to understand and engage with the challenges facing the hospitality sector, particularly in bridging the gaps between Government and the actual operational and marketing needs of the sector.

“Minister Bartlett continues to bring considerable energy to his ministry, and along with Minister Shaw, who just completed a tremendous stint as minister of finance, I expect the both of them to successfully take this initiative forward to the benefit of one and all,” Stewart said.

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