This question is frequently asked by visitors wanting to explore the rural countryside of South Africa. What is Agritourism? An Agritourism destination is a commercial business on a working farm conducted for the enjoyment of visitors that generates supplementalincome for the farmer and his farm staff.
A recent research survey done by Agri SA, showed that since January 2018, the agricultural sector shed 31 000 jobs in those provinces that were severely affected by the drought. It also showed that those farmers who responded, said they struggled financially. Quite clearly, drought affects agricultural production and therefore the profitability of farming.
There are two different perspectives – one the Farmers’ and the other the Visitors’.
Let us start with the Visitor experience first. Obviously, the environment will show the environmental effects of the drought, but it is important to remember that South Africa has always had periods of drought, so for most visitors they are used to summer and winter rainfall patterns and the impact these rains have on the farm lands. In South Africa we also know we have several different climates and that conditions are variable in terms of rainfall.
So why visit? Tourists/visitors can learn from farmers on the many different initiatives they have on their farm to save water. “n Boer maak ‘n plan” or “a Farmer will come up with a solution” is a truthful observation. Farmers are practical and resourceful people. Farming is a high-risk business and Farmers have to adapt to weather patterns that are uncontrollable.
There are many different things that visitors can do to assist the farmer, from bringing their own water to use in the accommodation facilities to purchasing animal feed. Why should visitors help the farmer? The most important reason, apart from the humanitarian, is to prevent food inflation (the increase in the cost of food). There is also the educational aspect that needs to be reinforced with children, for example, water does not come from a tap. It is in the interests of South Africans to have a healthy rural economy. Two-thirds of all South Africans live in urban areas. Unemployment rates are increasing in rural towns and droughts/weather conditions have contributed to this serious situation. Rural towns were developed to service the needs of farmers nearby. Currently these towns are in serious need of socio-economic upliftment and investment.
From a farmers’ perspective, the impact is not only financial but also emotional. More than 50% of the respondents in the Agri SA survey, said they were suffering from anxiety, depression and the like. Being able to speak about the effects of the drought on their farms is beneficial for those who often work seven days a week. So how can Agritourism help farmers? Farmers need to be given the opportunity to diversify their income streams so as to spread their risk.
So where should a farmer start? I have written articles which can be downloaded from the website www.agritourismsouthafrica.com. The World Farmers’ Organisation has a document on its website with interesting case studies on Agritourism around the world, which also provides for interesting reading.