THE WORLD OF AGRITOURISM

By: Subhashini, Asstt. Editor-ICN

The small landholders are the most precious part of a state- Thomas Jefferson, 3rd president of the United States

NEW DELHI: Agricultural tourism or Agri-tourism has been a widely discussed topic since the last 15-20 years. However, what I believe is that this phenomenon has been a part of our economy since thousands of years in many different forms. Agritourism is the idea of bringing urban residents to rural areas for leisure travel and spending. In today’s world, where the mechanization has expanded many-fold, people seem to have lost touch with how and where is their food produced. Through Agritourism, people get a chance to reconnect with their soil by offering a ‘hands on experience’ with the agricultural techniques and methods. Agritourism incorporates a wide variety of activities, such as milking cows, feeding the farm animals, tending the bees, picking fruits and many other recreational and outdoor activities. Besides, it also offers an educational experience to the tourists like historical exhibits or crop tours, etc.

What is Agritourism?

Agritourism is considered to be a growth industry in various parts of the world, like Canada, United States, Australia, Philippines, etc.

Agritourism basically revolves around three key factors- farm tours, small-scale production of food, and animal husbandry.  Guided farm/crop tours fulfil the purpose of both enjoyment as well as education. This rural experience provides an insight of the farmer’s markets, wine tourism, direct sales, and many other features of agriculture that most of us might not even be aware of. From the educational viewpoint, the tourists who actively participate in Agritourism experience an increasing desire to learn the different ways of growing food, or to learn how animals are raised.

Agritourism is a journey where one can experience and share the rural lifestyle with the other farmers, where the tourist is not merely a spectator, but for a while becomes a partner in the different aspects of agriculture. These tourists could be anyone, from a professional employee in an urban area to a businessman or an industrialist.

Agritourism is a dimension of tourism which is inexpensive, as well as enlightening. Besides inculcating the character of rural life in a person, it also etches some beautiful memories on their minds. The rural life is very simple and ordinary, and Agritourism converts this simplicity into an entertaining way of living it.

There are a number of words associated with Agritourism like Agro-tourism, farm tourism, farm-based tourism and rural tourism. The term used to describe the entertainment aspect of Agritourism is “Agritainment”. I believe by now you all can probably guess what would be meant by “Agriducation”.  Somewhere or the other, I believe that agritainment and agriducation are two sides of the same coin. Agritainment encompasses the aspects of agriducation and vice-versa.

When I thought of writing this article, all the layers started unfolding themselves one after the other which were somehow related to the past as well as the present.

Interesting threads related to Agritourism:

  • Many years ago, when the society and culture was developing, references could be traced which show that the crops grown in a particular area and the methods of production eventually spread to other areas as well. How did this become possible? Maybe this was an initiation of Agritourism, however there was no name given to it.
  • If we look at the history of Agritourism which is known, we get some references- Agritourism possibly originated way back than we thought it to be. This is because during the late 18th century when the nations were moving towards development and modernization rapidly, some members of the family decided to move to urban towns in search of jobs and employment, and some chose to stay back at their village and continued to be associated with farming. During these times, it was often seen that those living in urban areas used to go back to their villages, primarily to meet the rest of their family for a change of air and to escape from all their tensions and worries for a while. When the development of automobiles gained momentum especially around 1920, people from various nations started going on visits, tours and trips to other nations for the very same purpose.  When this practice started multiplying many-fold, the rural games and festivals became an enjoyable, pleasant and an inexpensive mode of entertainment, chiefly during the period of Great Depression after the First and the Second World War.  People wanted to escape the humdrum of daily chores and rush towards nature. The increasing demand of rural recreation gave way to a formation of a business activity, and by 1970-80, a number of activities started being included in Agritourism like horseback riding, farm vacation programs, farm petting zoos, overnight stays at bed and breakfast programs and moreover, commercial farm tours. Today, the demand continues to grow for Agritourism.

Important aspects of Agritourism

While researching on this topic, I came across some facts which might not be directly related to Agritourism, but have a vital role in making Agritourism a popular tourist activity.

  1. Dude (or guest) ranches- This activity was started in USA and Australia where the tourists helped the farmers in animal breeding and nourishment out of their own interest and the services rendered by some people which formed a bridge between the tourists and the villagers and those people wanted to devise some program for the same. This practice turned out to be a source of income as well as knowledge for the farmers.
  1. WWOOF- This stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms or Willing Workers on Organic Farms. In 1971, Sue Coppard, a secretary in London supported the movement of organic agriculture by initiating a program wherein she inspired the people living in urban areas to travel to the farmers in the weekends and help the farmers with organic agriculture.  This was started by four people and the first farm they ever went to was the biodynamic farm in Emerson College in Sussex. Hence the original abbreviation for WWOOF- Working Weekends On Organic FarmsThis could be categorised as a sort of picnic where the people could take a break from their boring and monotonous lives and get closer to nature. Gradually some people started working during the weekdays as well out of their own pleasure, and hence the name was changed to Willing Workers On Organic FarmsAfter a while the use of the word ‘work’ raised some issues related to labour laws in some nations and then the reference of migrant workers was added to this and in 2000, its name was changed to World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, however some groups in Australia are still using the previous name. In 2000, the first international WWOOF conference was held where representatives from 15 countries were a part of it. In this conference, it was decided to provide a firsthand experience in organic growing methods, to let the volunteers experience life in a rural setting, and to encourage and support the emerging WWOOF organisations in the developing countries.
  1. Permaculture– Originally referred to ‘permanent agriculture but then expanded to stand for ‘permanent culture’, permaculture is a system of agriculture which focuses on directly utilizing the features that are observed in natural ecosystems. This term was initially coined by David Holmgren, a then graduate student and his professor Bill Mollison in 1978. The three main principles of permaculture are:
  • Care for the earth and a provision for all the life forms to survive and be healthy.
  • Provision for the people to easily access the resources necessary for survival and use them in the best possible manner.
  • Recycling the wastes and returning them back into the system, and also that no one should take no more than what is needed, and reinvest the surplus. (Fair Share)
  1. Climate-friendly gardening- This type of gardening aims at reducing the emission of greenhouse gases and the carbon dioxide to minimise global warming. This gardening takes into account the impact of the materials used in the garden on the lad and on climate. It also includes various features and activities aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  1. Agrarianism- it is a philosophy that regard the rural society as superior to the urban, and also the independent farmer superior to a paid worker. It believes farming is the way of life that can shape the social values and structure of a person and a society. It stresses on the importance of leading a simpler life than a complex urban life. Thomas Jefferson, the United States president from 1801-1809 was an agrarian representative who followed the notion that the farmers are the most valuable citizens and the truest republicans.
    Mr. Thomas Inge defines the aspects of agrarianism in the following way-
  • The only occupation to occur self sufficiency and total independence is nothing else but farming. The co-operation in the agricultural community is the model society.
  • Independence is destroyed by the urban lifestyle and modernisation and it stimulates immorality.
  • It is the farmer who has a “sense of identity, a sense of historical and religious tradition, a feeling of belonging to a concrete family, place, and region, which are psychologically and culturally beneficial.” The balance and symmetry of his life puts a check on this estranged modern society.
  1. Agroecology – Itis the study of the agricultural production systems and the ecological processes that they operate in. The prefix ‘agro’ is related to agriculture. Agroecology is not just associated with one method of farming; instead it talks about all of them- whether it be organic, integrated, conventional, intensive or extensive. It has very much in common the principles which I have already mentioned above. The agroecologists are not against the idea of using high levels of technology in farming, they check the compatibility of those technologies/products with the nature and living beings. This is how they assess its usefulness. There are four properties of agroecosystems: stability, equitability, productivity and sustainability. These four properties are studied by the agroecologists while examining elements say properties of soil or plant-insect interaction, etc. They are also used to analyse the effects of farming on the rural communities, or the economic constraints and limitations to develop new methods of production.
  1. Agroforestry or Agro-Sylviculture-  In this method, trees and shrubs are grown around or with the crops and the pastureland. This is done to increase the productivity, diversity, profitability and health of the land. The land becomes ecologically sound and sustainable. Agroforestry is quite similar to mixed/inter-cropping. Both combine two or more plant species in close vicinity which leads to higher yields and reduced costs. Agroforestry is widely applied in practice. Some of them are-
  • Alley cropping
  • Strip cropping
  • Wind breaks and shelterbelt
  • Fauna-based systems
  • Shade systems
  • Agroforests
  1. Ecoagriculture- This term was coined by Charles Walters, an economist and an author, in 1970. The agriculture which assists both agricultural production as well as biodiversity conservation is ecoagriculture. Both these spheres operate harmoniously and help to maintain and sustain the livelihood of the rural communities
    in the older times, many of the rural communities used to follow ecoagriculture. However in the last few decades, there has been a trend in intensive agriculture not abiding by the rules of ecoagriculture, ultimately ruining the quality of land and soil and the destruction of biodiversity. The unit of management used here is the ‘landscape’- a clump of local ecosystems having a specific vegetation, contours, land usage, and community. All the features in the landscape influence each other in some or the other way.
    Ecoagriculture is very distinguished and is instrumental for the development of rural community. A new ecoagriculture movement is gaining an impetus wherein it is trying to combine all the land managers to propagate an agenda of conserving biodiversity while enhancing agricultural production.
  2. Forest farming- This involves cultivation of high value crops under a canopy in the forest. This canopy is modified and maintained according to preserve the habitats that favour growth and enhance the level of production. It is mainly concerned about amplifying the marketability and sustainability of the cultivated systems.

Over the past 40 years, the increase in the awareness about Agritourism was possible because of the valuable contribution of some nations like USA, Italy, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Africa and India.

No activity in the world can possibly survive without having agriculture as a base, because we get our primary requirement, i.e. food through agriculture. Any human civilization cannot progress without agriculture for even a day. That is why I believe that agriculture should be regarded as the most prestigious walk of life, and Agritourism is an excellent way to give due honor and respect to agriculture and several other processes associated with it

Agritourism is not only a source of entertainment for the tourists, but also an opportunity for them to closely observe the life of a farmer and moreover tourists find themselves emotionally more respectful towards the life of a farmer.

We all know that the financial condition of farmers in most of the nations is unstable, however whatever is conveyed to the world through media is not entirely the truth. When a tourist comes in a direct contact with a farmer itself instead of getting to know about him through a journalist, the one-to-one relations formed in that case are stronger and there is a development of a warm emotional bonding between the two. There’s a generation of a feeling of love and respect for the life of the other person.  Agritourism offers a chance to the aspirant visitors and tourists to learn more about the efforts a farmer puts in for his livelihood, and the farmers on the other hand try their level best to make the best use of this opportunity and grab all the information and knowledge that he is gaining out of this experience.

Conclusion

Since the past thousands of years, we have known a number of civilizations that have developed, a number of traditions that have come into existence, and a number of conflicts and wars that have taken place, however none of this has ever affected the continuity of farming and agriculture and it has been going on since ages. Maybe because when a tiny leaf emerges on the surface of the earth on the twig  of a small plant and smiles, it halts all the struggles of the past and carries the human beings towards a new dawn of a better, healthy and a sustainable environment.

The expansion of Agritourism could be instrumental in developing a consciousness among the citizens of a nation about the importance of agriculture, and also of the farmers.

My main objective in this article was not only to present the historical and supporting facts as well as to put forth the social and emotional aspects, but also to point out those elements that are often neglected and not given their due importance. Many often look Agritourism only from an entertainment point of view.

Right now, I cannot evaluate how targeted my efforts are but I will make sure to cover the economical, business activities, rural festivals and entertainment aspects and present them to you in the future.