The Responsible and Sustainable Tourism Handbook
Since 2000 some of the most extensively researched topics within tourism studies have been tourism and local economic development (Hall, Campos, 2014). Although the economic benefits of Agritourism development has been identified as a topic in need of greater research attention (Jeczmyk, 2014), Agritourism is viewed as a catalyst for revitalizing troubled rural agrarian economies and local employment creation for small town revival.
Agritourism plays a vital role in educating adults and children. The Association of Agritourism seeks to promote authentic farm tourism experiences with education as one of its pillars.
“Widespread unemployment and poverty, crime and a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS are everyday realities in South Africa. Many of these issues play out at Farm Level. Addressing them and meeting the needs of people is essential in securing a sustainable farming future” (WWF SA)
Although governments do budget for tourism initiatives, the overwhelming majority of this activity occurs in cities, towns and on game farms. Farmers are on the whole not benefiting from the tourism boom and each year agriculture sheds approximately 120 000 jobs. Agritourism has the potential to partially reverse this process and put people to work who would otherwise be idle.
What is Agritourism? Agritourism is a commercial business at a working farm or agricultural operation conducted for the enjoyment of visitors that generates supplemental income for the owner. It is a form of niche tourism that is considered a growth industry in many parts of the world, including South Africa.
The Association of Agritourism South Africa (AASA) is an NPO (non-profit organisation) that promotes sustainable Agritourism development in South Africa by creating an environment in which farmers and farming communities can implement Agritourism initiatives with the assistance of the Association. This newly established NPO has the enhancement of Agritourism at every level of South African farming as its objective. The AASA assists farmers with advice on how to unlock the tourism potential and farm experience for visitors as well as how to develop accommodation options, whether this be backpacker or guesthouse type accommodation.
ASA will create an information hub highlighting tourism farm experiences across the country allowing tourists (Foreign and South African) to incorporate Agritourism into their travel plans.
Each farm that is included in the AASA needs to meet certain criteria or be in the process of meeting certain criteria. These are:
- The development of Biodiversity initiatives on their farms.
- The promotion of entrepreneurship amongst farm workers so they can benefit from Agritourism.
- The development of environmental awareness amongst farming communities.
- The promotion of gender equality amongst farm workers.
- The promotion of buying and supporting locally made products and produce.
- The development of sustainable farming practises.
As an example, Botswana’s Department of Tourism is also encouraging Agritourism. It is accepting applications to licence tourism accommodation on farms, but only legally licensed working farms that allocated 15% of the farm’s entire area would qualify. When the farm does not continue with its farming activities, the licence is revoked. Agritourism in Zanzibar is well established with the Spice route being a major attraction for tourists who want to learn about the many types of spices grown there.
Farmers know the importance of using water wisely, of recycling and compost making, of saving energy, of looking after the soil and eating seasonal produce – they have been doing this without any pressure being imposed on them. Farmers can teach urbanites and city dwellers about where their food comes from, what the challenges are, why when there is a drought, food becomes more expensive. Agritourism plays a vital role in educating adults and children. The Association of Agritourism seeks to promote authentic farm tourism experiences with education as one of its pillars.
There are many different types of sustainable Agritourism in South Africa. A very good example of Agritourism, where the farmer is involved, is the farm Skeiding near Heidelberg, (featured on agritourismsouthafrica.com website). The farmer and his wife, have tourists coming from around the world, for a farm experience which includes going with the farmer early in the morning for a drive (he has converted a bakkie into a seating ‘game drive’ vehicle) where the agritourists help him with his ostriches, sheep and cattle. The experience is very educational (children and adults), for example, tourists are given the opportunity to ‘blow’ the ostrich egg out of the shell and learn about the bird at the same time. After the tour, breakfast is served (scrambled ostrich egg) and the farmer sits down with the tourist to talk about farming in South Africa. Each Agritourist is then given a certificate listing the activities they have participated in on the farm. The farm experience on Skeiding is fully booked for months on end.
Another example of a sustainable Agritourism is the farm, Kersefontein, outside Hopefield. Not only has the farmer, Julian Melck, identified the film industry as a steady source of income, but he also offers Agritourists the opportunity to sit down to a formal supper with him in the old manor house (the farm has been in the same family since 1770) where local delicacies and wines are served by the farmer himself. Agritourists really get the feel of a working farm as they see him working with his cattle, sheep, baling wheat etc.
For those Agritourists, who want to learn about organic agriculture or permaculture, there are several farms that offer an educational experience – Tierhoek, Numbi, Foxenberg (all featured on agritourismsouthafrica.com website) – to name a few – all border nature reserves and offer a sense of serenity, that many Agritourists seek. However not all Agritourism needs to include accommodation. Farmers and their staff can show tourists how to milk goats and make cheese, or bake bread. Ideally tourists could encourage sustainability by asking relevant questions, for example, regarding soap, “Why in South Africa do we need to import soap/shampoo from overseas”? Surely, the farmer can assist by asking teachers of crafts to teach those not employed on the farm, how to make local craft/products? The tourist bears the responsibility to ask questions, and should be encouraged to do so, to facilitate and encourage sustainable development in all areas.
In some cases, the Agritourist needs to take into account that the farmer is a very busy person. Visitors from cities have a very different perspective about farming – farmers do not sit around drinking coffee all day long. They are busy and do not like to be frequently disturbed. They also value their privacy. The Agritourist should listen very carefully to all instructions at the beginning of the visit. If a farmer asks the tourist not to go near the piglets because of the sow, he means it. The Agritourist needs to respect the Farmer’s requests in order to ensure that no children or adults get hurt – remember Agritourism includes working farms only. The tourist is not entitled to pick fruit from trees or play with the calves without the Farmer’s prior permission. Our farmers are very aware that Agritourists may start fires on their farms and this is a great concern to them that tourists do not understand the danger of leaving braai coals unattended.
Agritourism can also be found on farms that have been allocated to emerging farmers by the government. In general, the land is leased from the State for a certain period of time. In this situation, the creation of mountain biking or hiking routes, tend to be the only Agritourism option on these farms. Sporting bodies should support the development of these routes and assist the emerging farmers. Adventure or active Agritourism needs to be encouraged in rural areas. One of our emerging farmers, Andre Cloete, is farming near Genandendal. Andre is a highly successful and very busy farmer, but he identified opportunities for his sons to become involved in Agritourism on the farm. Many young people in South Africa cannot find work, including graduates from agricultural colleges and Agritourism can play an important role here as well. Cities in South Africa cannot cope with a continual influx of people hoping for work – this is simply unsustainable. The interest in Agritourism is very noticeable on the Face Book page.
“Agritourism” is the heart and soul of rural economic development. You see rural families utilizing their land and offering their experiences for people to come and enjoy, thus producing a better situation economically for these small communities.” Lori Coats, Western Oklahoma Coordinator, United States.
International studies show that between 1997 and 2007, nature and agricultural-based tourism was the fastest growing sector of the US travel and tourism industry. Rural tourism growth in Europe is three times greater than the increase in tourism in general. There is no reason for the growth of Agritourism, in South Africa, to be any less spectacular. South Africa cannot afford to have rural towns and communities die off. The trade must participate in rural and agricultural tourism to ensure that visitors, national and international, have the opportunity to meet the ‘real’ South Africa.