How can Agritourism play a role in preventing the decline of Rural South Africa?
Two-thirds of all South Africans now live in urban areas. For obvious reasons, this is not ideal. During the holidays, I read a very interesting book, The Encyclopaedia of South Africa, compiled by Eric Rosenthal, 1965 edition, which provided the population statistics of those living in rural towns. What amazed me is that despite the population increase over the fifty-two-year period since, most of these rural towns showed significant decreases in people living in these areas.
Yet on the Agritourism Face Book page, there is so much interest expressed by young people keen to work on a farm and enjoy the rural lifestyle. The Department of Agriculture needs to be at the forefront of helping youngsters obtain training and the necessary experience to provide sustainable livelihoods for all South Africans who want to work on a farm or settle in rural environments.
It is important for readers to note, that the Association of Agritourism South Africa (AASA) is a non-profit catalyst for the enhancement of Agritourism at every level of South African farming and it would be beneficial to the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Tourism to agree to meet with us, in order to strategically plan the future of Agritourism in South Africa.
An example of one of the company’s that has approached us is the Herold Meander (Pty) Ltd, a 100% black owned company, that wants to establish an Agritourism hub in and around the historical village of Herold, near George, in the Western Cape. Four portions of land totalling 156 hectares of which 75 hectares is suitable for agricultural production is included in the plans to establish sustainable rural livelihoods in an area which has fallen into neglect over the years. We need more of these types of initiatives to revitalise areas in the countryside which have been decaying over the years. The government needs to support these types of initiatives and while we can identify what can work from an Agritourism perspective, often there are no funds to encourage professionals to be involved, and so these projects become unsustainable.
Another project which has succeeded is the Flower Valley Conservation Trust in the Overberg. The Trust works to secure threatened fynbos landscapes, and protect those whose livelihoods depend on fynbos. Many fynbos species have already been lost, and more than 1000 species are endangered. The Trust recently released a field guide for landowners and fynbos harvesters to support sustainability in the fynbos industry. These types of projects are successful examples of where Agritourism has succeeded in making a difference in the lives of those working on the farms, while educating the consumer on fynbos farming.
The Cederberg Heritage Route is another example of community development in an area that produces Rooibos tea. Their trails make extensive use of services provided by the small, remote communities in the Moravian Church area of the eastern Cederberg, centered on the mission village of Wupperthal.
All of these projects require money for development of rural attractions and expertise. Often the communities in the area are unsure of what tourists actually want/need/expect when they visit these farms and farming communities. This is where the Agritourism Association of South Africa can assist in identifying opportunities. For example, locally made products (bread, soap, rusks) could be sold to tourists so that the community benefits. However, our organization is not a fund-raising body and ultimately that responsibility must lie with the farmer or the farming communities.
AASA is passionate about developing Agritourism in South Africa as a way for tourists to interact with farmers and farming communities. Please contact us if you need assistance from an Agritourism perspective. If you already have an Agritourism product/service, you are welcome to fill in the form on the website www.agritourismsouthafrica.com and we will add you to the database. We are not a booking site, but an NPO, so one of our goals is to build a comprehensive database of Agritourism providers and those who are interested in being informed of new Agritourism ventures.
Wishing you well in 2017!