Vanuatu Agritourism wins Global Award

By Glenda Willie.

The Food Tourism and Agritourism Initiative (FTAI) has been awarded an Island Innovation Award for “Most Transformational Government Sustainability Initiative”.

The Island Innovation Awards in partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative are dedicated to recognising individuals, organisations and projects driving positive change for remote and island communities globally.

A major element of the Island Innovation Awards is to inspire other island communities. Award winners are not only bringing about change within their communities but will also be inspiring a positive change in island communities across the world.

“Well done on this achievement, as there were so many excellent initiatives in this category to select between,” the Jury of panellists for the Island Innovation Awards stated when they applauded the FTAI team.

“We are very impressed with the work that you have been doing and are excited to see what you will achieve in the future.”

The FTAI (Prodaktif Turism Blong Yumi Initiative) is part of the Vanuatu Sustainable Tourism Strategy (2021-2025) and was successfully developed and piloted in 2021. This was led by Jerry Spooner as the Director of Tourism, and Ms Votausi Mackenzie-Reur as the Vanuatu Agritourism Coordinator, and supported by Kehana Andrews, Senior Agritourism Officer, Norah Rihai agritourism advisor funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Leo Vusilai, Local Cuisine Revival Advisor, and Dr Cherise Addinsall, Agritourism advisor funded by the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR).

Minister James Bule accepted the award on behalf of the Ministry of MTTCNVB and the Food Tourism and Agritourism Initiative team during an awards ceremony which took place on Friday 29th of April at the Island Finance Forum 2022.

“This is the first time a Government program in Vanuatu has won a global award,” Minister Bule said.

“It’s been a long journey trying to develop and realise the benefits of agritourism in Vanuatu and I would like to express my gratitude for Jerry Spooner and Votausi Mackenzie-Reur’s leadership with the FTAI.

“Because of this initiative we now have a clearer understanding of what food tourism and agritourism are and the benefits that they can bring to supporting sustainable livelihoods of our people. I commend the passion and commitment of the FTAI team on the successful delivery and global recognition of this initiative, and I confirm that the Government of the day through the EDF 11 will continue to support the Food Tourism and Agritourism Initiative team going forward.”

When approached to announce the news to Spooner he stated with a smile, “It’s great to see Vanuatu now getting global attention being described as leading the way in policies and programs that are supporting sustainable and positive change for the benefit of our communities, our local economy and our environment.

“Prior to winning the Island Innovation Award, Vanuatu was also listed in the top 52 places to visit in a changed world, in the New York Times being described as what ‘Bali or Fiji was like 40 years ago, because it has yet to reckon with overdevelopment’. The new approach we have taken in Government policy and programs is showing the direct link between destination appeal and Government policies around climate change, sustainable destination management and community wellbeing”.

“Our FTAI has been so important in supporting ambassadors to raise the profile of Vanuatu’s productive sector, cuisine and cultural food and farming heritage both domestically and internationally,” Mrs. Mackenzie Reur stated.

“By increasing the pride in our local food and farming systems we can provide better health outcomes for our people, support the livelihoods in our rural areas and raise the profile of Vanuatu’s cuisine internationally to make our cuisine an attraction in its own right. The FTAI team have worked tirelessly and dealt with endless challenges that are so common in Vanuatu, yet we have persevered because we are driven by the same passion to create positive change for our people and our islands and we appreciate the leadership we had with the former Director of Tourism, Mr Spooner.”

Leonid Vusilai, local Cuisine Advisor stated their research has shown that our food has not been a drawcard for visitors coming to Vanuatu.

“Our chefs are working hard to restore pride in our food culture, and through the FTAI we are supporting our agritourism operators to be ambassadors for our local and traditional cuisine,” he said.

Norah Rihai, Agritourism Advisor stated, “Through our Vanuatu Sustainable Tourism Policy and Strategy we seek to ensure tourism genuinely contributes to the sustainable livelihoods of our people and communities.

By supporting food tourism and agritourism experiences we can improve the wellbeing of our people based on our core values of land, custom, culture, family, community, food, and enable visitors to have meaningful connection to our values”.

Senior Agritourism Officer Ms Kehana Andrews stated, “I’ve been working closely with our Food Tourism and Agritourism ambassadors from our program rollout in 2021 throughout the 6 provinces and I’m so impressed with the positive mindset they have and supporting environment they have developed through their Agritourism Association.”

A TAFEA Agritourism Ambassador and President of the Vanuatu Agritourism Association, Benson Samuels stated, “I’ve always had so many ideas but wasn’t sure where to start and how to develop them further, being part of the Vanuatu Agritourism Association and going through all the training has given me the tools to develop my agritourism experience and support others in the association to developed theirs.

The Vanuatu Agritourism Association is not only providing a supporting network within Vanuatu it’s also linked us up with other regional countries and now we are getting global exposure”.

A SANMA Agritourism ambassador, Ina Wells, stated, “Our group of Food Tourism and Agritourism Ambassadors are walking the talk, we are on the ground making these changes in our businesses and communities despite all the challenges we are faced with. We can only give our deepest gratitude to Mr Spooner for his vision and especially EDF 11 for funding this initiative. I also know I speak on behalf of all the ambassadors when I say a special thank you to FTAI team whose perseverance is second to none.

You all stood up for us, empowered us and never made us feel like victims, we can only salute you for your steadfast commitment to positive change for Vanuatu. May God richly bless you all”.

Dr Cherise Addinsall — agritourism advisor supported by the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR) – stated, “Vanuatu’s approach to Agritourism through the FTAI is helping to communicate to development partners a clear pathway for agritourism development while supporting agritourism operators to further develop their products to meet tourists’ expectations and support more local meaningful involvement in tourism.

As part of the work we are doing through ACIAR we are supporting the establishment, strengthening and capacity building of Agritourism Associations in Fiji and Vanuatu to provide locally led platforms for agritourism operators to advocate and connect to Government and donors and we are particularly impressed with the progress from the Vanuatu Government in both policy and implementation to support food tourism and agritourism experiences and I commend Vanuatu for being so innovative in this new approach”.

Mrs Mackenzie-Reur thanked the Vanuatu Government through the European Development Fund (EDF 11), the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the Vanuatu Tourism Support Program, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the Global Environmental Fund 5 Integrated Sustainable Land and Coastal Management Project, Secretariat of the South Pacific (SPC), South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO), the SANMA Island Food Revolution, Vanuatu Tourism Office and Vanuatu Skills Partnership for supporting the piloting of this incredible initiative, and lastly for all the relevant line Agencies within the Agritourism Value Chain for supporting the Initiative through the National Agritourism Committee and the Agritourism Ambassadors from the Vanuatu Agritourism Association.