Agribusiness tours boom as farmers seek step up

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.

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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