The people of Antigua and Barbuda love their fruit. Black pineapple – a variety of pineapple specific to the islands – is known as the national fruit and adorns the top of the country’s coat of arms. The fruit also has its own annual day of recognition, the official Antigua Black Pineapple Awareness Day, which takes place during the country's annual Mango Festival. The country’s fanaticism about fruit has even seen it host the Caribbean’s Miss Agriculture Pageant, which was held in October 2012.

Yet local delicacies are rarely served in Antigua and Barbuda’s numerous hotels and resorts, with many opting instead to serve apples from the US, kiwi fruits from New Zealand and pears from South Africa. “Hotels demand foreign fruit, because their visitors demand them," says Hilson N Baptiste, Antigua and Barbuda’s minister of agriculture, lands, housing and environment. "However, we have started a campaign to get [the hotels] to buy locally. In 2011, we took hotel representatives and showed them what the farmers have to offer and now they are buying more.”

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Mr Baptiste is not the only official championing wider distribution of local fruit. The Caribbean Community (Caricom), a regional trade bloc, has also said that links between local agricultural production and tourism should be strengthened.

Surplus supplies

Increasing demand is not the only challenge facing Antigua and Barbuda's agriculture sector; there are also issues on the supply side. “We are encouraging farmers to grow different varieties of crops," says Jedidiah Maxim, an industry specialist from the country's Ministry of Agriculture. "But, for example, although we have 27 different varieties of mango, the majority of the farmers grow only one type as it is the most popular among the local population.”

The problem with this is that it leads to surplus supplies, which means that crops go to waste at the peak of the mango season. Wastage could be reduced or eradicated altogether, however, if the fruit was exported.

According to Colin Murdoch, ambassador-at-large and permanent secretary in the Department of Trade and Commerce at Antigua and Barbuda's Ministry of Finance, the country already has trade partnerships and agreements in place that should facilitate the exportation of its fruit. “We are members of Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, Caricom and the World Trade Organisation, as well as having trade agreements with Canada and the US, among other countries. Investments into [the agriculture sector in] Antigua and Barbuda do not have to be restricted to meeting our domestic demand,” he says.

Big opportunity

Another area in which Antigua and Barbuda is looking to attract investment is in its food processing sector. Farmers in particular are keen to see more investments in this area. “We would be happy to create a synergy with foreign investors, as we need contracts and more certainty,” says Donna Chaia, the owner of a farm that grows eggplants, spinach and okra.

Mr Baptiste acknowledges that food processing is a “big thing” for the country, and that the development of this sector would not only be commercially beneficial but would also help to reduce the imbalance between Antigua and Barbuda's imports and exports. “For example, at the moment we consume $70m-worth of poultry a year. If we can receive some serious investment in poultry processing and production we could save that money,” he says.

There are positive signs that investment in this area is beginning to take off, and Mr Baptiste hints that a foreign project in the poultry production sector is in the pipeline. Meanwhile, the country has been exporting black pineapples to Bama, Norway’s biggest fruit wholesaler, in the past few years, which suggests that the country's export opportunities are ripe for the picking. 

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Holmenlund.