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Can Agritourism Save Small-scale Farming?

  • Cynthia Ord
  • 4 September 2012

Agritourism is great fun for travellers. It’s a chance to experience rural life in a new place and get in touch with local people. It’s a way to reconnect with your food sources and return to the roots of production. In some cases, it’s an opportunity to get your hands dirty and pick your own fresh produce.

For those who are still not convinced that a farm tour or farm stay is for them, there’s another side of the story – the supply side. Agritourism brings great benefits to small-scale farmers all over the world. Researchers and policymakers hail this eco-friendly form of tourism as a useful tool for rural development.

agritourism benefits - harvest in Lijiang China

In Lijiang, China, crops are in the process of drying after the harvest. Farm visits help preserve this way of life. Photo courtesy of flickr/whl.travel

Here are three ways that agritourism helps small-scale farmers sustain themselves.

New, Diversified Earning Opportunities

Agritourism has its origins in Italy, where the term agriturismo was coined. The word appeared in the 1950s, when small-scale farming was already becoming less profitable than it had been for past generations. Faced with dwindling incomes, Italian farmers opened their farms and homes to tourists, offering rustic lodging and fresh meals made from the produce grown on site. Over the next few decades, the industry grew and matured. Today in Italy, it has reached a high level of sophistication, sometimes showcasing elegant cuisine, fine wine and luxurious accommodations.

Nowadays, rural regions across the globe are hoping to emulate the success story of agriturismo in Italy, both in developed countries and in the developing world. According to wikitravel.org, “agritourism focuses on travel that is low-impact and empowering to local communities, both socially and economically. Recognizing the need to diversify their farm products and supplement their agricultural incomes, many farmers consider agritourism as a viable option for the long-term sustainability of their farms. Agritourism can prop up an agricultural economy when local producers can no longer compete economically.”

agritourism benefits - sheep cuddling

Activities such as sheep cuddling are good for both agritourists and for small-scale farms. Photo courtesy of flickr/Juniper Moon Farm

In a recent study on agritourism development, Hyungsuk Choo summarises the trend as follows: “No longer sustained by the sale of traditional crops and livestock that have provided a flat net income for the past 30 years, farmers have become entrepreneurs, generating additional income from second jobs known as ‘off-farm activities,’ which have been estimated to comprise about 75% of farm income. Of these activities, diversification into tourism has been one of the most prevalent. For many farmers, agritourism is the favored way to reduce the need for a second job away from home.”

Agritourism Can Be Built on Farmers’ Existing Assets

Why is agritourism so friendly to rural entrepreneurs? One reason is that the barriers to entry are fairly low. Small-scale farms already have many of the assets that tourists seek: an authentic experience, respite from hectic high-speed urban life, a taste of local life and flavour etc.

A study on agritourism in Thailand notes that “agritourism can utilize the agricultural holdings and products for the purpose of tourism such as scenery from paddy fields and vineyards, food and drink from agricultural products (vegetable, fruit, etc), souvenirs from local products (handicraft), and accommodations from redundant or vacated property.”

agritourism benefits - new local market

One perk of agritourism - the farm can sell directly to travellers, avoiding costly shipping and middlemen. Photo courtesy of flickr/TravelKS

New, Local Markets for Agricultural Products

Agritourism has the potential to save on farmers’ shipping and distribution costs. As the same study on agritourism in Thailand puts it, “The main opportunity for agritourism operators appears to be that agritourism brings a market to their site of production. In this case, they can save their money on petrol and gain better price rather than sell to middleman.”

For anyone who values local produce and buying organic while at home, agritourism is the travel version of the same idea. Not only are you supporting local farmers whose livelihoods are jeopardised by larger-scale and more globalised forms of agriculture, you’re also saving them the costs of shipping and distribution.

Bottom line on agritourism: Try it at least once, and you may be playing a small part in saving small-scale farming. Go straight to the roots of your meal for a travel experience where everyone wins.

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Cynthia Ord

Cynthia Ord discovered the WHL Group while interning with the local partner Outdoor Albania for a summer. She is currently based in her hometown of Denver, Colorado, helping out with The Travel Word newsletter, and planning her next trip. On the side, she writes about the impacts of tourism for her blog, tourism, people and the earth.
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agriculture, Asia, ecotours, Europe, Italy, opinion, outdoors, South-Eastern Asia, Southern Europe, Thailand,

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