Tour companies are reporting growth of up to 60 per cent, year on year, in the uptake by tourists and farmers of agro-tours, visiting model and specialist farms, factories and suppliers to show farmers more profitable ways of farming. Gaining ground in East Africa, agro-tourism now accounts for 5 per cent of the global tourism market and is growing at a rate of 20-30 per cent a year.
However, in Kenya, it is growing even faster than that, with firms taking Kenyans to visit Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and even South Africa, Israel and the Netherlands.
“We are getting numerous requests from farmers who have heard about other farmers growing certain crops or keeping certain livestock and turning into millionaires. It has become such a sustainable business for us because we have managed to provide a way for farmers to meet,exchange ideas, and learn from each other,” said Dorothy Atieno, who owns Zimke, a tour company which specialises in agro tourism.
The company organises tours to agricultural research institutions,farm equipment factories, tractor dealers, local markets as well as coffee and tea production areas in East Africa.
Other agro tours companies take farmers to fish farms, rabbit farms,wheat, barley and rice farms and let them interact with the farmers.
“We let the farmers decide what they want to see and where they want to go. Locally, we have trips round the year, but for oversees trips it depends on the season,” she said.
International tourists keen on cutting their holiday spending but sating their wanderlust and experience of other cultures are now heading for homesteads in Kisumu and other areas of Kenya under an initiative marketing organic farms as tourist destinations in return for help on the farm.
The new working holidays initiative is being run out of the UK as a programme called World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and has put together a global network of farmers who offer accommodation and food to travelers in exchange for labour offered by the visitors.
Under the programme the WWOOF has an innovative Web site that connects travelers with a network of organic farms spanning from Africa to South America. An owner of an organic farm who is interested in the organic exchange programme subscribes to put the name of his farm on the website at a fee, listing the location and a brief description of their farming activities. Interested tourists then visit the website and choose from the catalogue of hosting farms then make direct contact to arrange a stay. The stay can run from two to six weeks depending on the amount of work involved.
To cushion travelers from exploitation by hosts, the programme spells out terms under which the travelers should be treated, which include working for a set number of hours a day, usually between five and six hours, and in exchange, receiving free room and board.
In Kenya the organic farms participating in the WWOOF programme are organised under the banner of the Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN), which explains the rules of engagement to individual farms.
Already Kenya has 30 registered farms in WWOOF, the majority of which are concentrated in Nyanza and Rift Valley provinces, against worldwide figures standing at an estimated 6,000 hosts in 100 countries. As the agriculture network expands its reach it hopes to get more organic farms into the programme, promoting tourism in the country and also fostering cultural understanding among the host and the travelers.
Achuth Women Group operating around Lake Victoria and running a 3 hectare organic farm growing vegetables, onions, tomatoes, bananas, pigeon peas and herding sheep and cows has enjoyed an influx of travelers since they enrolled with WWOOF two years ago. According to the chairperson Ms Rispah Okello the climax was in December last year when they got 10 visitors at a go.
“We usually get a maximum of five who stay for about a month. Out of the ten last December, four stayed with us for a whole season of six months,” she said, noting that the travelers reacted with an extraordinary enthusiasm to the activities of the farm expressing the need to monitor how the food exported to them is handled from planting to harvesting and packaging.
Once inside the farm, the travelers go digging, fetching water from the nearby streams ,and preparing the nursery for planting. They also take the sheep and cows to the grazing field before taking a break for lunch with the other members of Achuth family. In the afternoon, it’s back to the farm to harvest ready produce and accompany the Achuth Women Group to the market for two hours.
The surplus is then taken home, where they package it for buyers of horticultural produce. The tourists then join the members of the family in having supper that the host provides free, before being accommodated. The next day, horticultural buyers visit the farm and the tourists help pack their trucks before going back to the daily routine.
“I have stayed with Achuth farm for six months now, having originally been torn between taking a holiday in Zanzibar and coming here. I have had a huge learning experience and learnt to appreciate the work that goes into some of the produce I receive in the UK imported from Kenya, like pigeon peas.
I also have saved, and would definitely want to come back. I chose to stay for a whole season to familiarise myself with the seasons of planting in Kenya,” said 30-year-old Davis Lance from the UK.
World Wide Opportunities was founded in Britain in 1971, but has lured many more volunteer farmhands in recent years as hard economic times have focused westerners on cheap ways to take a vacation.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
The Kenyan agricultural industry may be viewed by many as a source of work not pleasure, but for an emerging class of tourist the thrill of life on the farm is seeing Kenya develop new brands of agricultural tourism and merchandising, with now an Agro Tourism Board of Kenya sat inside the Ministry of Tourism and a row of initiatives putting holidaymakers into tea plantations and factories, ahead of evenings spent in new ‘bush bars’, after a hard day picking tea.
At the forefront of the new drive is a project that set out, back in 2005, on a long-term vision to create the centre of the world’s ‘tea holidays’, in Meru.
Officially opening this month, the Kilimo Talii initiative has been a ‘poster child’ project for The Kenya National Federation of Agricultural Producers (KENFAP), in partnership with Netherlands venture capitalist Agriterra, and the local community in Chogoria, Meru.
The community initially donated 1.6 hectares of land to put up tourist accommodation that included constructed cottages, a camping site and huts built in Meru’s housing style, all set in the scenic hills, green and lush vegetation, and beside the rivers, waterfalls and caves that are already the core tourist attractions in the area, which sits beside the Meru National Park, with Mount Kenya bordering Chogoria in the East.
However it is the tea plantations at Chogoria that have been the strongest pillars of Kilimo Talii.
When tourists visit the area, they are taken to the tea plantations, given tea plucking bags and join the locals in picking tea. Once done, they then load the tea in the trucks and escort it to the tea factory. Once in the factory, a waiting officer explains the whole process of converting the leaves and buds into tea, after which they are taken to a nearby tea café where they enjoy a cup of tea.
There is also an adjacent bush bar where the tourists can watch the sun set. “If you look at that whole chain, you can imagine how many jobs the initiative has created. This is the kind of initiative that we would like to see; that which benefits the locals who own these attraction sites,” said Mr. Charles Gitau, the programme Manager of Kilimo Talii, who also sits in the Agro Tourism Board of Kenya, created to promote the emerging form of tourism.
The tea holidays have already brought an influx of tourists to the area, but “we are working with local tour guides and ICT firms in the country, because we would like to capture the new way of doing things including tapping into e-tourism,” said Mr Gitau.
To encourage locals to commit to the project, KENFAP, the majority shareholder, initially sold shares to individual farmers at Sh100 a share, with a minimum stake of 50 shares to become a full member.
Community based organizations in Chogoria have also bought shares, but to avoid any group dominating the project, their stakes were capped at a maximum of 1000 shares, while an individual farmer was not allowed to own more than 100 shares. “Our idea was to have every member of Chogoria on board, and we wanted everyone to own a share of this project, that’s how we came up with the minimum and maximum number of shares that an individual and company can possess,” said Mr. Gitau.
KENFAP now plans to transfer another 30 per cent of its current 95 shareholding to existing shareholders by 2012, with long-term plans of letting the locals own 70 per cent of the shares by 2016.
It has also collaborated with United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to accompany the tourism development initiative with a parallel merchandising and branding project, marketing produce such as water, milk and yoghurt from the Mount Kenya region with conservation messages, depicting Mount Kenya as a World Heritage site. ‘Let’s join hands and save our trees & rivers," reads one of the branding messages.
“The initiative is line with the government policy of spreading tourism earnings to the rural communities and ensuring sustainable utilization of tourism resources,” said Tourism Minister Najib Balala, while presenting cheques to the first beneficiaries of the program.
The thrust is also part of a growing interest worldwide in the potential for agricultural tourism. In May this year, the United Nations Tourism Organization, introduced the Sustainable Tourism for Elimination of Poverty Program, to further develop community tourism such as the Kilimo Talii program by injecting Sh16 million of funding.
As the world’s newest type of tourism, international organizations estimate community tourism may now grow by as much as 20 to 30 per cent a year in tourism numbers, by appealing to a new class of holiday makers who would rather share the lifestyle of hosting communities and learn about agricultural, environmental, cultural and social diversity.
With Kenya’s total tourism earnings now projected to hit Sh100bn by year-end, and the sector currently recording growth of 17 per cent per month in arrivals, it is hoped that agro-tourism will also now spread the benefits of the sector to the three-quarters of Kenya’s population that depends on agriculture for their primary source of income.
Early projects throughout Kenya allowing tourists access to local land and lifestyles have so far brought increased revenues through wages, land leases and development funds, and many have now gone on to fund boreholes, schools and clinics for the local community - structured either as complete community management projects or as partnerships with investors or trusts who provides the capital to build the guest accommodation and tourist facilities.
Bob Koigi for African Laughter
The tour packages include accomodation, meals, ground fees and transport.Flower farms are a major attraction and provide the bulk of visitors,especially from Europe, where over 80 per cent of the flowers produced in the country are marketed.
Dairy and beef cattle production, sisal and pineapple estates at the coast and Central Kenya also give visitors a chance to learn aspects of their production.
At a cost of Sh13,000 for ea one day tour, a farmer is able to tour the Brookside dairy factory in Ruiru, or visit macadamia farms, coffee factories or horticultural farms mainly in Central Kenya and Central Rift.
For longer tours, a 7-day tour at a cost of Sh112,000 might include Amiran Kenya for horticultural products, Del Monte for pineapple growing and processing, Suera Farm in Nyahururu, and Cereal Board of Kenya godowns in Nakuru. This package also incorporates a visit to tourist sites like the Aberdare and Nakuru national parks.
“It might seem a lot, but don't forget with these tours the farmer is also taken step by step on how to grow the produces. And the training is thorough,” said Dorothy.
The Netherlands tour, another favourite with many farmers, costs around Sh260,000 and takes visitors to see the famed Dutch flower auction, to meet tractor dealers, and to learn about biogas
installation and windmill technology, as well as on side-trips studying ideas such as mushroom farming.
Peter Kihumbu a reknown commercial farmer in Rongai area of Nakuru, is a beneficiary of agrotourism. Having relied on the traditional maize and beans farming for eight years with ordinary results, and with farming being his passion, he got sponsored by a local priest to attend the seven day tour.
Amazed by the greenhouse technology in one of the farms, he made a resolve to save till he could buy his own. Investing in tomatoes and high yielding onions that he got the seedlings for during his tour, he set a small portion of his rocky land and rededicated his effort to constantly water the produce. After three harvests, he had saved enough to buy a mini greenhouse from KARI. Three years on, he now has 10 greenhouses, where he grows fresh produces including capsicum, cougettes, onions, and tomatoes among others and is the leading supplier of the produces in Nakuru town.
His farm, now completely transformed into green gold, has also become a demonstration plot where the Ministry of Agriculture extension officers train farmers. Kihumbu charges Sh1200 per day for the use of his farm as a training venue.
“I have done wonders with this farm, and look back and wonder why I didn't know about this before. I know farmers can make their million within a year. But you have to spend to earn, a mentality that is becoming hard to change with majority of the farmers,” he said.
The demand for the visits, which are different from farmer exchange programme that are confined to only one visit, has recorded an impressive jump, with Zimke company now recording over 60 per cent growth this year compared to last year.
The Minister of Tourism Dan Maanzo says that while this year's tourism earnings are expected to hit the Sh100bn mark up from Sh98 bn last year, alternative tourism avenues like agro tourism had potential to insulate the country from the shocks of traditional tourism like the slump in figures that was recently recorded with the kidnapping spate in Lamu.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
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