Author: Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais, Innovation Influencer, and Founder, African Innovation Foundation

November 21, 2017

Agritourism has become big business in recent years, with impressive growth in Asia, Australia, Canada and South America. This niche form of tourism is attracting a new breed of travellers who are often more connected with nature and seek to have authentic experiences in terms of being able to appreciate where their favourite produce comes from, understand the history of farming and production in specific regions and buy value-added-products at the source.

These trends have a number of positive impacts on local smallholder farming communities in terms of supporting job creation, artisanal crafts, cultural exchange and the growth of various agro-industries along the value chain. Agritourism itself is a powerful economic multiplier that impacts restaurants, hotels, leisure and education – which in turn help to build more diverse local economies.

All around us there is sustained interest in tourism products that help to protect the environment and bring tangible benefits to local communities. Trends show that the sector has moved beyond wine tasting and nature tours. There is a growing appetite for farm-based tourism, community tourism, agro-heritage tourism, agro-trade, culinary tourism, and health and wellness tourism, all of which can fall under the domain of agritourism.

Tourists, whether travelling solo or with families, are increasingly seeking out destinations with authentic farmers’ markets and locations that offer farm-to-table dining experiences while children learn to appreciate nature and the need to protect it. Underpinning the sector is the promise of authenticity, wholesomeness and integrity.

With its vast natural bounty, the agricultural sector in Africa can be repositioned to maximize the integration of indigenous food, culture, wellness and the environment into a sustainable rural tourism experience. Harnessed properly, agritourism could be a catalyst for disrupting smallholder farming communities in Africa and dramatically improving their living standards, helping to reverse the cycle of poverty.

Making Africa’s natural bounty work for Africa’s smallholder farming communities
As a continent where farming is the primary source of food and income; and which provides up to 60 percent of jobs, Africa is ripe for such disruption. Agritourism has the potential to become the heart and soul of rural economic development in many of Africa’s farming nations. Although its potential is largely untapped, there are signs of development. Many parts of the developing world are already doing well.

Tea and coffee tours are becoming big business in Kenya, and discerning farmers are packaging their farms as tourist sites offering day trips to plantations and dairy farms as well as walks in indigenous forests to spot natural wildlife while learning about local culture.

Farm Concern International (FCI), the Africa-wide agri-market development agency that specializes in supporting smallholder communities, is a case in point. Amongst other programs, FCI actively initiates cross broader agritourism activities in an effort to raise the incomes of rural farming communities. One of the ways it does this is by facilitating farm exchange visits for smallholders and farming communities to learn new techniques and processes from each other.

These exchanges help Africa’s rural farmers to embrace new ideas and see for themselves the potential of agritourism in helping them create new income streams for their families and raise their living standards on their own terms. Growing new income streams can also help reshape their existing agricultural crop output and improve their underlying value. It also lowers technological barriers, which is an important criterion for rural farmers in becoming agritourism-ready.

The role of innovation in catalyzing agritourism in Africa

The Agricultural Society of Kenya conducts agricultural shows in Africa throughout the year, showcasing agricultural innovations by various enterprises. The events include ‘demonstration farms’ (Demo Farms), which act as an educational tool for smallholder farmers, demonstrating and teaching new technologies. The events, which regularly attract over 100,000 attendees per show, not only encourage the adoption of technologies and processes that increase farmer productivity but also pave the way for agritourism opportunities, attracting a wider audience while encouraging interest in agriculture and farming as a career choice.

However, much more must be done in order for innovation to truly have an impact on catalyzing agritourism in Africa. At present, a lot of scientific ideas on the continent are driven by abstract research that may not necessarily be responding to African needs. There is a need to disseminate the outputs of primary research to facilitate agritourism innovation at grassroots levels. Africa’s biodiversity is so rich and vastly differs from one corner of the continent to the other. African research and scientific ecosystem enablers should be more involved in tapping into this rich diversity to identify opportunities to support the development of agri-tourism on the continent.

There are, however, several challenges that need to be addressed. Farmers often do not have the requisite knowledge to conduct agricultural tours and to market their farms. Additionally, tourists looking for agri-tours often cannot find information on farms that they can visit and there are very few tour operators specializing in agritourism in Africa. There is also the question of being able to safely access these farms by road or railways.
This is where enterprising young Africans can plug the gaps and create an ecosystem of service-oriented small businesses in transport, logistics, campsite facilities, tour guide services, cleaning services, water supply, and so on.

We must find a way to foster greater collaboration between researchers, scientists, innovators, investors and farmers to trigger innovations that respond to local needs. If we do this successfully, the future for African agritourism is bright – because the continent remains comparatively untouched my major global tourism, leaving a richly structured natural landscape and cultural authenticity. Africa is therefore well placed to build an agritourism industry that is sustainable and that respects the history and heritage of its people.