SUSTAINABLE AGRITOURISM

Agritourism has been recently embraced by South African Farmers as a means of not only diversifying risk and earning additional income, but also to create a platform whereby farmers and fellow South Africans can communicate. Surprisingly many South Africans living in urban environments believe that it is easy to farm, in fact, they believe anyone can do it. Well, not quite…

Agritourism is a commercial business at a working farm or agricultural operation, conducted for the enjoyment of visitors, that generates supplemental income for the farmer. An Agritourism operation can be broad in scope, for example, educational (cheese making) or activity based (cycling) or accommodation and camping facilities. As in any business, but particularly in South Africa, farmers need to do a feasibility study first before they embark on this journey. In First World countries, governments provide subsidies for farmers to develop Agritourism destinations, but this is not the case in South Africa. Agritourism is NOT Ecotourism OR Rural Tourism.

As part of the Agritourism business plan, it is always good to think of who the target market/visitor will be. In remote areas, several farmers will have to collaborate to create a Route so it is worthwhile for the visitor to embark on a long journey. What type of people fall into the “Agritourism category”? Normally, Agritourism appeals to individuals who enjoy authentic personal experiences that they can discuss with their friends/colleagues on their return. These visitors enjoy exploring the countryside and involve themselves actively in activities that are provided by the farmer. They are adventurous, ‘self-challengers’ and self- drive tourists.

Farmers frequently are introverted by nature, so making decisions about who they want on their farm is very important. If the farmer wants to build facilities on his farm, he will have to get planning permission from the local municipality. This may take time, so in the feasibility study it is important for the farmer to be as realistic as possible. Visitors want to meet the farmer, they love the small touches (homemade soap), information booklet in the bedroom on what to do/where to go, an outdoor relaxation space, cleanliness, local food and secure premises.

One of the stakeholders in Agritourism, is the Government (National and Provincial) and for very good reasons. The latter want to attract visitors to Rural areas to increase employment, to increase the income of farming communities and to stop the migration of people to the cities. Unfortunately, Stakeholders, particularly the Government and Tourism Bodies need to provide action plans of how they plan to help the farmers achieve best practice with regards to Agritourism. Agritourism is not even registered on the South African Tourism website. I did not realise that, until this was pointed out to me by a journalist who was attending the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists Conference in South Africa earlier this year. He had a planned to stay in South Africa a week after the conference, but he struggled to find information on the internet about true (as per the definition) Agritourism because he wanted to meet farmers. There are environmental aspects to consider, for example, waste management, energy management and water management. What about skills development plans?

If farmers want to embark on the journey, it is important that they consider the following factors: What impact are Agritourists going to have on the farming land? What is the cost/benefit ratio? What indemnity documents are going to be needed? A general overarching indemnity document will not suffice because each farm is different. Who is the social person in the farming family? Maybe the farmer does not want to talk to visitors all day, because tourists cannot be managed with an “On/Off” switch. What if the pipes burst? Toilets do not work or water pressure is minimal? I am very careful when advising farmers that their farms could become Agritourism destinations. I have read several articles recently written from a First World perspective. Agritourism is different in South Africa and we have to be responsible citizens and acknowledge the differences so that Agritourism in South Africa becomes a sustainable business.

Other items to consider are: signage (not simple because two government departments deal with this issue), low return on investment initially, interference with farming operations, additional work load, lack of privacy, visitors expect the farming family to be upbeat, enthusiastic and happy ALL the time (what if the farmer has an ‘off’ day because someone has stolen his sheep).

There are several countries in Africa that are embarking on Sustainable Agritourism Programmes, for example, Ghana, Botswana, Zanzibar and Kenya.

What would help Agritourism develop in South Africa? Active support from Government and Tourism Bodies; Active support from Farming Co-operatives; Accurate information in the media and Education for all students, no matter what age.

From a Farmers’ perspective, embarking on an Agritourism venture, is not wise, if a basic feasibility study has not been done.

The Association of Agritourism NPO 175-957 has several guiding principles to assist farmers and tourists:

  1. Introducing Sustainable Agritourism farming practices on farms;
  2. Assisting farmers with feasibility studies and marketing;
  3. Education via media releases as to what Agritourism is;
  4. Building Environmental Awareness amongst tourists (on farms and in media)
  5. Assisting in creating dialogue between farmers and South Africans to alleviate misunderstandings about what farmers do and what farming is
  6. Assisting Agricultural students to find employment
  7. Information and articles are available on the website www.agritourismsouthafrica.com and the Face Book page “Agritourism South Africa”.

    Jacqui Taylor
    M.D.
    Agritourism South Africa

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