Knowing that this helps small farmers to substantiate their meager farm incomes make for a satisfying holiday. This was made possible by an urban tourism industry professional who decided to return to his village in Maharashtra to set-up a community based enterprise. Agri Tourism today is a thriving segment that has given farmers pride and confidence to continue their indigenous activities. Other states and countries are interested in replicating the model. EGlobal Travel Media talks to Mr Pandurang Taware, Managing Director, Agri Tourism Development Company on the occasion of tenth anniversary of World Agri Tourism Day, celebrated on 16 May.
Congratulation on completing a decade of a community based concept of Agri Tourism in India! How satisfied are you in achieving the aims of Agri Tourism Development Company (ATDC)?
ATDC team is happy with the way agri tourism concept has evolved, particularly in the state of Maharashtra. We had launched on 16th May 2005, following a pilot programme in the village of Baramati. ATDC now has 500 trained farmers and 218 Agri Tourism locations across the state. ATDC has added 37 farmers in the last two years alone. It is an option for farmers wanting to diversify their farming operations and add more economic activity. Farmers have experienced a 33 percent growth in their income. Agri tourism is helping in conservation of local cultural heritage that is resulting in reverse migration of indigenous artisans. They’re now happy to imbibe the tradition into their future generation. In some way, we’re able to keep farms in the family and family in the farms, through our mission.
We have helped attract tourists to the rural areas, thereby supporting the growth of small tourism enterprises and have created an opportunity to urban Indians as well as foreign tourists to discover and appreciate Indian agricultural tradition.
How many active agri tourism farms are there in Maharashtra State and what kind of income are they generating?
Currently we have 171 active Agri Tourism farms with the involvement of 218 trained farmers. These are spread across 12 districts of Maharashtra state. All these are easily accessible from Mumbai and Pune. Our statistical survey has revealed that a total of 330,674 visitors arrived to these farms between April 2013 and March 2014. This generated a total of US $2.53 (INR 161.47) mn.
How do you convince and train plain farmers to take on tourists at their working farms?
ATDC has developed home grown Agri Tourism model to serve the needs of farmers, especially those with small farm holdings. Agri Tourism helps rural tribe to move beyond the traditional approach. We impart basic, in-house training over different sessions for two full days. We then help them build an Agri Tourism center with locally available resources. Finally we create awareness on how to run and market it.
How do you help them in sourcing visitors to their farms?
Word of mouth (45 %), website (35%) and Social media (10%) have been our main marketing tools. ATDC office at Pune generates five percent and the rest comes from awareness through the media. We’re launching an e-commerce portal on 16th May 2015 to help tourists choose and make their reservations for particular Agri Tourism farms based on their activity choice.
What kind of indigenous activities are available for tourists at agri tourism farms?
Tourists can actually partake in the ongoing agriculture activities at the farms. They can visit village artisans, enjoy rural lifestyle, wearing traditional costumes and savor fresh prepared food. They can plant trees, play with goats and milk the cows. They can enjoy indigenous games like kite flying, gilli-danda (indigenous sport) and riding bullock carts. They are even issued a bullock cart driving licenses. Trekking, water games, visits to nearby attractions like other farms, historic sites, local temples, dairy, winery, Textile Park and silk factory are optional. One of our aims is to sell fresh agriculture produce directly to tourists from urban area, thus cutting costs of middlemen.
Are you interested in taking your concept to any other state in India or abroad? Has anyone shown interest?
Yes. The state government of Gujarat has shown keen interest to start agri tourism. Recently, Mr Radhi Hal Harib of Saudi Arabia Basic Industries Corporation visited our center to study our model. SABIC wants to replicate our agri tourism model in Saudi Arabia. ATDC will act as a consultant to train Saudi Arabian farmers.
You have received worldwide recognition for creating a sustainable, community based venture. Can you elaborate on that?
We are doing what we felt was useful to reduce the risk of financial burden of farmers due to erring climatic conditions that lead to catastrophic social status. We’re happy that the world is noticing our work, thus helping our motive get publicity.
ATDC has been honored with National Tourism Award by Department of Tourism, Government of India in 2010, for the Most Innovative Tourism Product and in 2013, for Best Responsible Tourism Project. International awards include Global Responsible Tourism Award 2011 at WTM London for Conservation of Cultural Heritage, Wild Asia Responsible Tourism Award 2012 at ITB Asia for Community Engagement & Development & Cultural Preservation, Sustainable Tourism Award 2014 at 75th Skal World Tourism Congress at Mexico and also Special Recognition Tourism Award by Diversey Care at the same Skal event. ATDC was a finalist at Global Tourism for Tomorrow Award 2011, by WTTC, London during its event in Las Vegas, USA, for Community Benefit Tourism.
What significance does World Agri Tourism Day hold?
ATDC celebrates 16th May every year, its founding day, as World Agri Tourism Day. In 2010, UNWTO accepted the same and included it in its international tourism events calendar.
It’s an important day to signify the beginning of a collective diversified activity with individual benefit to small and medium farmers. Population of India has increased five times since India’s independence in 1947. More than 80 percent of Indian population lives in rural areas. 90 percent of the rural community earns it’s livelihood from agriculture directly or indirectly. Land gets divided and subdivided between children through passing generations. Currently only a fourth of the land is available per person on an average as compared to 1947. Gradual loss of fertility of land due to use of chemicals and unseasonal rains are diminishing yields. Agriculture is increasingly becoming expensive and many farmers cannot afford it. Engaging of farmers in complimentary income generating activities is essential for their survival. ATDC has formed guidance assistance committee to tender advice and technical know-how to encourage farmers to establish small and viable Agri Tourism units on their farms.
What is the way forward?
We have observed that urban tourists are increasingly seeking rural visits for relaxation. Agri tourism provides both educational and recreation. There is scope for us to do much more. ATDC has been concentrating its efforts on overall development of farmers. Rural youth, particularly school drop-outs and education deprived women constitute more than 50 percent of rural population. Youth can be good guides at the agri-farm and women can be good hosts by preparing authentic rural food for guests. ATDC is continuously evolving with needs and trends and shall continue to do so. We’re introducing CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) projects at agri tourism farms. We expect the new ATDC e-commerce portal to give a big boost to agri tourism.
By Anand & Madhura Katti