AGRO-TOURISM FOR DOUBLING FARMERS’ INCOME

Authors: Ashish Santosh Murai1, Renu Balakrishnan2, Preeti Mamgai3, Pragya Bhadauria4
1, 3, 4 ICAR-Agricultural Technology Application Research Institute, Zone-1, Ludhiana
2 ICAR-Central Institute of Post-Harvest Engineering and Technology, Ludhiana

The average monthly income of an Indian agricultural household, according to NSSO 70th round, is estimated to be Rs. 6426/- at national level, which is at least four times lesser than the lowest paid central government servant with salary of Rs. 18,000/- per month (minimum pay according to 7th Pay Commission recommendations). Thus, a newly joined teacher with Rs. 850/- per month salary in 1980 would now withdraw Rs 96,700/- and Rs. 46,000/- will be his monthly pension on retirement. On the contrary, an average marginal farmer would have to earn at least Rs. 140,000/- per acre just to match the basic minimum wage (Jakhar, 2015). Government of India aspires to double the income of farmers by 2022 through its seven-point strategy that includes measures to step up irrigation, providing quality seed, preventing post-harvest losses etc. Probably, it is the first time when a paradigm shift is being noticed in the government’s approach as the emphasis is being given on increasing the farmers’ income rather than just increasing agricultural output. It would be a real challenge for the government to realize its dream of doubling income as the growth of the agriculture and allied sector has been almost stagnant over the years i.e. the average annual growth rate was 3.2 per cent during 1991-92 to 2013-14 compared to targeted 4 per cent. Nevertheless, initiatives like e-National Agricultural Market (e-NAM) to reform the existing marketing structure are meant to ensure remunerative prices for farmers. Skill development on various job roles is being emphasized by the Agricultural Skill Council of India (ASCI) to develop and upgrade skills of the farmers for gaining handsome income. Farmers must capitalize on these opportunities to make the most out of it. Farmers must explore new avenues of income generation through complementary and supplementary enterprises. Emphasis should be given to those enterprises which can be easily adapted by the farm family and which are compatible with the existing farm business. Tourism is one such component which can blend in and compliment farming business in a sustainable manner.

Boom in Indian tourism sector

Tourism, in contemporary India, is being considered as a major engine of economic growth and a prime source of foreign exchange earnings. During 2016, a growth of 10.7 per cent was observed in terms of Foreign Tourist Arrivals in India as compared to that of 2015; whereas, the Foreign Exchange Earnings from tourism registered a growth of 15.1 per cent. Similarly, domestic tourist’s visits registered a growth of 11.63 per cent (Anonymous, 2017a). No surprise that the report on “Key Indicators of Domestic Tourism in India” revealed that 19 per cent households, both rural and urban, had at least one overnight trip for holidaying, leisure and recreation, health and medical and shopping (Anonymous, 2016). Moreover, the Economic Impact 2017 India (Anonymous, 2017b) report unveils that the direct contribution of Travel and Tourism to Indian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was 3.3 per cent in 2016, which is expected to rise @ 6.8 per cent per annum from 2017-2027 to reach 3.5 per cent in 2027. Similarly, the total contribution of Travel and Tourism to GDP was 9.6 per cent in 2016 and is projected to rise @ 6.7 per cent per annum to reach 10.0 percent in 2027. Further, in 2016 the travel and tourism directly supported 5.8 percent of total employment in India, which is estimated to rise @ 2.1 per cent per annum to reach 6.1 per cent in 2027. In terms of total employment contribution, travel and tourism contributed 9.3 per cent, which is predicted to rise @ 2.0 per cent per annum to reach 9.6 per cent in 2027. Moreover, the investment in Travel and Tourism in 2016 was 5.7 percent of total investment in India and is expected to rise @ 5.7 per cent per annum over coming decade. All these figures show the importance of tourism and its multiplier impact on the Indian economy. Moreover, Finance Minister, while presenting Union Budget 2017, has proposed to set-up five Special Tourism Zones (STZs) to boost private investment in tourism sector. Besides, the United Nations (UN) has adopted the year 2017 as the “International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development” recognizing the contribution of tourism in strengthening of peace in the world.

Agro-tourism as an enterprise

Adding a component of tourism to agriculture as a complimentary enterprise can help in enhancing farm income, ensure round-the-year employment to the farm family and farm labour and thus prevent migration and more importantly, guarantee a just market to farm produce and protect against price fluctuations etc. Amalgamation of agriculture and tourism, agri-tourism /agro-tourism is such a practice which is developed on a working farm to attract visitors (Barbieri et al., 2008). Marques (2006) defined agro-tourism as a special type of rural tourism hosting house is integrated into an agricultural estate and inhabited by the proprietor, and allowing visitors to take part in agriculture and other complementary activities. On one hand, agro-tourism for a farmer is a range of activities, services and amenities provided to attract tourist to rural area to generate additional income for the farm business. On the other hand, for a tourist, agro-tourism is something that connects him/her with the heritage, natural resources and culinary experiences that are unique to agriculture of a specific region. Starting an agro-tourism centre does not require any sophisticated building, highly skilled staff or huge natural resources. A feasible project requires a farmhouse with a traditional look and minimum facilities, kitchen with basic cooking equipments, rich agricultural resources like water (pond, well, lake etc.) and plants (crops, fruit trees, herbs etc.), bullock cart, cattle shade, guest rooms with basic facilities, first aid box and emergency medical cares. Any farmers as an individual who has at least two hectare (2 ha) land, farm house and enough water resource can start an agro-tourism centre. Similarly, farmers’ clubs, gram panchayats, agricultural co-operatives, universities, colleges, Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) etc. can also establish their own agro-tourism centers.

Fitting into the farm plan

Whoever wishes to start an agro-tourism centre must ask himself/ herself that “Where does the tourism component fit into my existing farm plan?” The tourism component can be a primary, supplementary or complementary enterprise depending upon the risk bearing ability of the entrepreneur, availability of resources, compatibility with existing enterprises etc. Thus, agro-tourism could be a minor/ supplementary activity that would help market farm products and occasional hosting of guests would not put extra pressure or would not adversely affect the existing enterprises. For an example, organizing wine-tasting activity under tourism component to market the wine can help fetch better price and additional income. Similarly, when grapes are exported, sold in local market or its wine is sold and there is enough grapes/wine for the visitor to taste too then the type of agro-tourism would be a complementary enterprise which would have an equal footing with other enterprises where a synergistic farm business is in place. Whereas, agro-tourism becomes a dominant activity or a primary enterprise when other enterprises are established or managed to support the tourism component. One may cultivate grapes to make wine for the wine-tasting festival for the tourists making agro-tourism a primary enterprise.

In totality, agro-tourism has the potential to fit into agriculture, horticulture, livestock and fishery enterprises but its operation and success entirely depends on the creativity and planning of the entrepreneur farmer. The vegetables produced in the field can be used to cook food for the guests, fruit trees can provide “pick your own produce” activity, a row of tomato can be rented to a family, guests can purchase honey at the producers level, a fish pond may provide guest fishing opportunity etc. Farmers get agro-tourism as a means for direct marketing of the farm produce, without middlemen and often without requiring storage as well.

Benefits and threats from agro-tourism

Agro-tourism has the potential to change the face of agriculture with manifold direct and indirect benefits. Agro-tourism can help diversify the agri-business thereby reducing the risk associated with weather vagaries, price fluctuations etc.; therefore, it not just increases the income of the farmers but also protects them against income fluctuations. It provides employment opportunities to the farm family, especially the rural youth, accommodating highly skilled to unskilled manpower. Over the time, improvement in the soft skills like interpersonal and communication skills can help sustain and expand agro-tourism business. Providing opportunity to the general public to better understand what agriculture is all about can be one of the most rewarding aspects of agro-tourism. If organized in a synergistic manner, agro-tourism can prove to be an inevitable part of integrated farming system. Moreover, the standard of living of farmers may improve due to cultural transformation resulting from contacts with urban people. Agro-tourism centers can trigger developmental process in the region thereby indirectly benefitting the farmers and enhancing the community’s economic potential.

Sometimes, the tourism component may compete with the main farm operation for time and manpower. Moreover; a regular agro-tourism business may lead to loss of privacy for the farm family, there will be extra responsibility of the enterprise and there is also a risk of high liability when a higher investment is made in infrastructure development etc. Planning and organizing the business can prove to be tedious and frustrating for the farmer entrepreneurs. There is a possibility that the tourism business may affect some family members negatively and the farm runs an additional risk of allowing guests on the farm for various activities. The most important thing any agripreneur should know is that agro-tourism is a long term business; just like any other tourism, it needs constant diversification according to the public demand to develop into a sustainable business.

Experience of ATDC

The Agri Tourism Development Company Pvt. Ltd. (ATDC), in its research in 2004, found that 43 per cent of urban people did not have any relative left in the village and as much as 97 per cent of urban population wanted to experience the beauty of rural life. ATDC sensed an urgent need of an experiment which would capitalize on the urban demand to make farm business sustainable with regular income to the farm family. Providing urban dwellers a unique opportunity to take a break from stressful routine life and fall into the arms of nature and enjoy rustic life style with family was considered to be the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) of agro-tourism. Thus, it established its pilot project on 28 acres land in Baramati at 70 km distance from Pune city in Maharashtra.

ATDC has been able to replicate the agri-tourism model in 328 centers across 30 districts in Maharashtra. These agro-tourism centers provide stay like a farmer, engagement in farming activities, experience of bullock cart riding, tractor driving, flying kites, tasting local authentic delicacies, wearing traditional clothes, singing and dancing on the local beats, purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables etc. ATDC reported to have served 4 lakh visitors in 2014, 5.3 lakh in 2015 and 7 lakh in 2016, generating revenue of Rs. 35.70 million. Tourism Policy 2016 of Government of Maharashtra, recognizing the significance of agro-tourism, has identified agri-tourism as the major focus area to facilitate small farmers. Moreover, at least one educational tour to agri-tourism centers is to be made mandatory for the school students from fifth to tenth class (Anonymous, 2016b).

Conclusion

Agro-tourism has the capability to add value to the existing Indian farming and shape emerging farming business by stimulating the agricultural and general economy, protecting rich farming heritage and promoting sustainable and climate resilient agriculture. It helps to protect the bond between a nation’s people and its soil through different products and services like farm tours, educational tours, special agriculture related festivals and events and other value added farm products. The cultivator entrepreneurs, who are only limited by their creativity, can be the torch bearers of twenty-first century Indian agriculture by diversifying their products and services while educating the world a great deal about their strong agricultural heritage. In return, agro-tourism can ensure income and respect to the most valuable citizens of the mother earth.

References

  1. Anonymous (No date). Agri Tourism Development Company Pvt. Ltd. Available http://www.agritourism.in/about-agri-tourism/ [Accessed on 11 August 2017].
  2. Anonymous (2016a). Key indicators of Domestic Tourism in India, NSSO 72nd round.
  3. Anonymous (2016b). Mahrashtra Tourism Policy 2016. Department of Tourism and Culture Affairs. Government of Maharashtra.
  4. Anonymous (2017a). Annual Report 2016-17. Ministry of Tourism, Government of India.
  5. Anonymous (2017b). Travel and Tourism: Economic Impact 2017 India. World Travel and Tourism Council.
  6. Barbieri, C., & Mshenga, P. M. (2008). The role of the firm and owner characteristics on the performance of agritourism farms. Sociologia Ruralis, 48, 166–183.
  7. Jakhar, A. (2015). Seventh pay commission recommendations: Uprooting our farmers. Economic Times. November 24, 2015.
Marques, H. (2006). Searching for complementarities between agriculture and tourism – the demarcated wine-producing regions of northern Portugal. Tourism Economics, 12, 147–155.



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