We are living in the Information Age which has revolutionised general shopping as consumers are more empowered than before. This has also affected the food market as people want to know how the food they eat is produced with the rise of healthy eating movements.
These two issues have led to the growth of local grocery stores/ farms, farm to fork/ farm to table initiatives at supermarkets, eateries, hospitals and schools. This public awareness has led to agritourism where people visit farms to know what goes on into their food production by having talks with the farmers and processors.
That is the basic definition of agritourism but it could involve more farm based activities like feeding animals, picking fruits, buying directly from the farm and farm stays commonly known as bed and breakfast. Agritourism or agrotourism is a niche sector with massive potential and is already in practice in the UK, USA, Australia, Canada, Italy, Georgia and Philippines.
Here in Kenya, as farmers continue to face challenges that are making the sector less profitable day by day, agritourism could provide a lifeline to people with midsize farms and are open to the idea of visitors as it diversifies revenue streams from the same land base. Even though, there could be challenges such as safety and regulatory issues, the benefits of agritourism outweigh the risks. It could also be a perfect opportunity for investment groups or farmers, cooperative societies to consider.
Agritourism provides additional source of revenue to the farmer as visitors pay fees to access the farm. This diversification of revenue streams could also contribute to the profitability of the farm.
It is also a form of direct marketing where the farmer is able to sell traditional products to the visitors which is possible through the farm talks. More importantly it makes the farmer a price maker as opposed to a price taker. If it’s a family farm, the family gets an opportunity for every member to be involved in the venture. In addition, the farmer gets a chance to listen to the needs of the customers and this helps in nurturing the relationship hence improving the business relationship.
The farmer is also able to maximise land use through mixed cropping and livestock keeping.
The general public or our visitor gets to benefit from agritourism too. They are able to learn how their food is produced and by whom. It could also be a platform for learning and research where other farmers visit to acquire skills in farm based activities.
It’s only in farming businesses that farmers are willingly open to sharing ideas and help each other. This is evident in Digital Farmers Kenya, a Facebook group of over 300,000 members connect to share information and market their products. For school going children in urban areas who might not have had a chance of experiencing a rural farm life, this could also be a platform for them to appreciate where their food comes from and probably create future farmers.
Agritourism is also an important aspect of entertainment. An individual or family agriculture based holiday trip spent taking care of plants, domestic animals and interacting with nature could be a perfect way to relax and relieve pressure.
The local community also benefits from agritourism as it creates employment opportunities in the farm activities. It is also supports other businesses around the farm such as petrol stations as visitors fuel their cars. This helps in growing the economy of the local community.
With proper regulations on insurance of the visitors and food safety, agritourism could be beneficial to the farmer, the public, local community and the government (through taxes) hence contributing to sustainable agriculture.
Imagine waking up to a family holiday in a farm in rural Kirinyaga County, learning how to milk a cow, taking breakfast of coffee/ tea and arrowroots/ sweet potatoes /cassava grown locally, grazing goats, picking fruits to make your own salad with a little zip lining or horse riding and driving home with fresh vegetables, fruits and bananas, milk and the best Mwea Pishori rice.
[The writer is passionate about agriculture and is a policy analyst]