AGRICULTURE AND TOURISM
RURAL DEVELOPMENT THROUGH AGRI-TOURISM IN PAKISTAN

HABIBULLAH MAGSI,
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Research Analyst
, PAGE
Mar 12 - 18, 2012

Agri-tourism can be defined as a commercial enterprise that combines agriculture and tourism on the agricultural/horticultural farms, ranches, or other agribusiness operations for the purpose of entertainment, education, or active involvement in the activities of the farm.

This is a hospitality business that requires strong public relation skills. It also necessitates the cooperation of the entire farm family and a willingness to take risks. The opportunities for agri-tourism are virtually endless and can take the form of providing accommodations, entertainment opportunities, educational activities, outdoor recreation, festivals, demonstrations, school tours, etc. Providing visitors with something to see, do and purchase is a sound strategy for rural development.

The ways of rural tourism on the farms can vary country to country with respect to organizational skills. Sometimes rare plant and animal species are the main attractions, while sometimes traditional foods, handicrafts and historic buildings attract people. For instance, in Finland it usually denotes rented cottages and catering services in the country. In Hungary, it is about low-priced accommodation in villages. In Slovenia, it implies tourism on family farms with guests living with the farmer's family or in a guesthouses and visiting the farm for meals and tours, while in the Netherlands it translates into camping, cycling, and horse riding. In Greece, rural tourism is about boarding in traditionally done-up rooms and breakfasting on homemade products. A European example of well-developed rural tourism is France where camping and caravans are the most popular form of accommodation in rural areas, where many farmers have developed camping sites on their farms.

On the other hand, beside Europe the Asian countries are also contributing in their national income by promoting agri-tourism as an industry. For example, in Indonesia rural tourism has been developed mainly in plantation areas of Sumatra and Java, where the visitors stay in hotels, but visit farms to see activities such as rice planting or rubber tapping, etc. In Japan, the most common type of farm tourism is the Farm-Inn, which offers accommodation and usually meals from locally produces crops, located in agricultural farms. The Korea offers tourism farms, developed by a group of more than five farm households and home-stay villages near tourist resorts. In Malaysia, the government has provided most of the funding for more than 30 agro-tourisms centers, which are intended for education as well as recreation. In India a farmer own an eight-acre's farm, says that we have about 500 foreigners visiting our organic farms each year. We conserve nature and have a large collection of seeds and medicinal herbs and rare plant species.

Pakistan is known as a tourist paradise, with spatial interest destinations. Its main attractions include adventure tourism in the northern areas, cultural and archaeological tourism as found in Monenjodaro, Taxila, Harrapa, Rani Fort and early Muslims (Mughal) heritages at Thatta, Multan, Lahore, Peshawar, and Swat.

Moreover, birds watching, desert safaris, trekking and mountaineering are readily available tourist specialized products. But, what is missing or not developed is tourism in the countryside as agri-tourism. Rural Pakistan can emerge as important tourist spots like other countries of the world. The developed world has a craze for knowledge about traditional ways of life where the arts and crafts will be attracted to visit rural Pakistan if the concept of agri-tourism is marketed well. To maintain their present standard of living, farmers will have to find new ways of earning money. The income gap between farmers and urban workers has become a major problem in Pakistan, where the agri-tourism can be a new source of income for the farmers in the country. Thus in next few years, Pakistani market can be opened for cheap agricultural produce for abroad as well as attract peoples from all over the world to visit the countryside.

Pakistani farmers are unlikely to match up to these standards, as the agricultural farms are not developed in that respect. When small-scale farmers first become involved in the tourist industry, they often need some outside support, i.e., they may require credit and outside expertise to keep them improve their facilities to meet the standards of urban or foreign visitors. They may need new skills of management and service so that their visitors will be pleased with their stay and want to come back and they may also require help in advertising and publicity in order to attract tourists from distant cities and abroad.

Tourist farms are much more likely to succeed if they are near tourist attractions such as national parks or good beaches, where developed infrastructure is also important. Large-scale development, if it is well designed, can attract more tourists and have a spillover affect in generating income for farmers over a wide area.

CONCLUSION & RECOMMENDATIONS

Good planning is vital if agri-tourism is really going to benefit rural communities, because the countryside may seem a peaceful heaven to the city dwellers. Most successful rural tourism is the product of good planning and good location, where poorly planned development can spoil community life and ruin the landscape. Good planning not only minimizes the destructive impact of tourism, it is also useful in other ways. It helps farmers assess the tourism potential of their farms and their local area and develop this potential in a coordinated way.

The investment should primarily be done by the government or commercial organizations, with strong economic reasons in farm tourism. Farmers beginning a tourist enterprise can benefit very much from outside support, i.e., from public or private planning organizations. They need information and guidance in deciding whether their farms are suitable for tourists, what facilities they can offer and what return they can expect. Once the decision is taken, they need training for management and hospitality, and sometimes they also need credit to develop the resorts.

Besides marketing and advertisement, a national system of accreditation or licensing can also be an advantage. In fact, wider social contacts sometimes seem to be as strong motivation as the economic return on such investments. Farmers are most likely to benefit from tourism if they can provide tourists with services and products, i.e., environment, accommodation, food, and local specialties. While the economic impact of rural tourism is not simple to evaluate, its development is most likely to benefit farmers, because this business is supplier-oriented rather than demand-oriented.

Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation is responsible for identification and implementation of such tourist projects. It is suggested that corporation should initiate studies on agri-tourism. The pilot projects should be identified and implemented, where data regarding the investment analysis may be generated for further planning. Easy and low interest credit and other financial help from government can make a big difference in the profitability of touristic farms. In addition, take into consideration the farm's existing buildings, wildlife, natural landscape features, bodies of water, and proximity to other tourist attractions, with easily accessible and having sufficient parking. This sector may be developed for creating employment and reduction of poverty in the country. Although labor needs will vary depending on the type of enterprise and its size, but each direct job can create number of indirect jobs.

Initially there is need to develop at least one village at each district for agri-tourism, where through the geographical proximity this industry will expand itself on the gradual path of norms. The farms for agri-tourism if developed along unique indigenous lines could have multipliers effect and high revenue opportunities, in layman terms, more jobs and money. For example, the Indian government has identified 31 villages across the country as tourist spots. This does not mean that India has only 31 potential tourist spots in rural areas, there could be many more. These spots have been selected on pilot basis keeping in view of available infrastructures, while there are many other spots of potential tourist interest where adequate infrastructure needs to be developed.

In Pakistan, there is need to promote awareness and management skills among stakeholders which will be involved in agri-tourism projects. Otherwise lack of tourism and management skills make difficult for them to select suitable projects for development or assess the impact of these project on rural area. Many rural areas of outstanding natural beauty have a poor road or rail network, and are difficult to reach. In this regard, infrastructure is to be developed, because the city dwellers might be unwilling to spend their precious free time visiting the countryside if it will take too long to get there.

Potential sources of income include a per person general entrance fee, fees for extra activities and on-farm sales should be taken into account. Therefore, fees should be nominally priced. On-farm sale of the produce will provide the main means of income. Linking an on-farm experience with something already being produced for sale on the farm is often the most successful strategy for using agri-tourism to increase farm profitability. In this regard, government and private enterprise can be the main source of investment.

(The writer is PhD research fellow at INRA-AgroParisTech, Paris France)