Taking the path of sustainable agro-tourism

Agriculture has been a source of tremendous blessing to mankind and indeed Ghana. Since time immemorial, agriculture has proven to be the lifeblood of the world, as it has not only been a source of food but a seedbed for other crucial industries.

Today, advancement in knowledge means that agriculture could and should be used for more than crop cultivation and livestock farming. Indeed, the agriculture industry has proven to be a dynamic one that presents a myriad of options that may not be evident from a casual glimpse of the industry.

Once upon a time, when the word ‘tourism’ was mentioned, the imagery that quickly came to mind was that of travelling, wanderlust and basically unbridled fun. Agriculture was hardly anywhere in sight when tourism was being considered – but not anymore.

Today, agriculture is at the forefront of generating billions of dollars for countries which have made a commitment to maximising the monumental opportunities inherent in the industry through agro-tourism.

Agro-tourism is a niche form of tourism that involves the attraction of people to farms, plantations, ranches and other agricultural enterprises or landmarks. This form of tourism takes tourist or visitors to agriculture facility sites to help them appreciate the full cycle of their operations. It also affords tourists the opportunity to enjoy activities like picking fruit and vegetables, horse and donkey riding, tasting honey, learning about alcohol distilling and palm oil processing etc.

In African agro-tourism is fast gaining prominence; with considerable progress already recorded in south and eastern Africa. Outside Africa, agro-tourism is contributing significantly to both the farmer and local industries of Mexico, Philippines, India and the USA.

In Ghana, however, the phrase ‘agro-tourism’ remains alien to many as the venture is yet to receive any meaningful attention by government and industry players alike; a situation that needs addressing urgently to open alternative doors of opportunity for farmers and other industry practitioners.

While the benefits of agro-tourism are too obvious to miss, the main drawback for agro-tourism according to industry experts is attributable to lack of knowledge and exposure on the part of a majority of farmers who often show very little interest in shelving old, primitive practices for new and advanced ones.

Benefits for Ghana

Although the Ghanaian farmer is undoubtedly a hard worker, not many can boast decent livelihoods. Many a Ghanaian farmer works diligently to churn out plenty – only to be recompensed with little or nothing.

This makes the option of agro-tourism even more interesting and worth exploring to create a potentially lucrative income-source for the diligent Ghanaian farmer – while also contributing significantly to development of the industry and, by extension, the entire country. This could also be a catalyst that will spur our farmers to adopt modern farming techniques which will make their farms eligible for tourist visits.

Agro-tourism is also an effective tool for wooing youth interest in agriculture. By nature, the youth find fun and adventure alluring.  If stakeholders led by government can initiative deliberate steps aimed at making the Ghanaian youth central to renewed efforts of making agro-tourism an essential part of our agriculture industry, we could well be on our way to experiencing a surge in youth participation in agriculture – a scenario that would have a monumental impact on the country’s development agenda.

Local effect

On the local scene, agro-tourism will become a great addition to Ghanaian agricultural culture. It will no doubt present tourism enthusiasts in the country with an alternative to regular tourism, which will surely prove an exciting deviation.

As calls for a mentality-change toward agriculture in the country gathers steam, agro-tourism presents a beautiful and well–timed opportunity for attracting the cosmopolitan populace, especially, to our hinterlands where about 85% of our agricultural endeavours are sited. It will be interesting to afford youngsters and adults alike a chance to experience first-hand the nitty-gritties of the agriculture value chain, and how that culminates in the countless agric products we savour daily.

Agro-tourism is an ideal initiative that if adequately harnessed could also help shed a substantial chunk of the rural unemployment number. Tourism of any kind attracts people -and people, once out of their homes and immediate vicinity, are naturally going to have need for basic necessities like food, shelter and clothing etc.  This portends an opportunity for rural folks to gain direct and indirect employment, and consequently improve their lives.

In fact, a well-structured national agro-tourism initiative could be used to engineer an end to the malignant ‘kayayie’ issue that has so far defied every state-proffered solution. If there are agro-tourism-inspired opportunities in the Upper-East and Upper-West Regions – which are home to most of the vulnerable young women involved in the debasing ‘kayayie’ undertakings – we could effectively halt the rural urban migration train that continues to flood our already choked capital city with young people in search of non-existent jobs.

This could be the much-anticipated solution to the ‘kayayie’ menace, as no one with a reasonable source of livelihood will explore the option of leaving behind family warmth in favour of migration to the city to endure a life of utter squalor when they can enjoy better conditions in their native homes.

Foreign exchange 

On the global stage, Ghana is definitely a name to be reckoned with. Indeed, the world’s second-largest producer of an important commodity like cocoa can’t be anonymous among the comity of nations, can it?

Aside from its cocoa, Ghana is renowned for the export of quality products like coffee, cashew nuts, vegetables, fruit and leather products. This makes the country a potential for foreign visitors, who would no doubt want to experience the sights and sounds of the land that has gifted the world so much wholesome nourishment with its quality agricultural products.

If agro-tourism is taken seriously by relevant authorities and stakeholders, Ghana could be set to benefit from a windfall of foreign exchange that tourists drawn to the country will afford the country through visits.

The influx of visitors into the country will be a blessing to Ghana in more ways than one. As is the case with regular tourism, every aspect of national life will get a lift if agro-tourism is taken seriously by all.

Cultural experience

Agriculture is a practice often sandwiched by other rich cultural indices. For the foreigner and Ghanaian alike, a chance to experience the exhilarating cultural diversity of the Ghanaian nation is too good to turn down. This incentive will greatly fuel agro-tourism participation by the public and reinforce a sense of nationalism among local tourists, as it will provide visitors a chance to experience Ghana in a realistic form they probably have never imagined.

Agro-tourism will present visitors a chance to enjoy native food and purchase fabrics as well as other artefacts. The experience gathered during such expeditions will be a great avenue for encouraging cultural exchange and transmission between visiting local tourists and the indigenes of host communities.

Media herald

The media will have to be at its ‘advocacy best’ if Ghana is to experience the avalanche of benefits that could accrue from a well-executed national agro-tourism initiative.

Government is clearly inundated with a lot of development issues, and so a key stakeholder like the media must rise and take centre-stage in sensitising the public through a deliberate campaign to get the entire population on the agro-tourism bandwagon.

The recent success chalked up by the media in applying the brakes on wanton destruction of the country’s lands and water-bodies by illegal miners – popularly known as ‘galamsayers’ – is the best evidence yet of how the media can help efforts to make agro-tourism a household name in Ghana a reality.

Through a coordinated media focus, we have a big chance of making the most of agro- tourism as we collectively strive to propel our dear country toward progress.

Catalyst for rural development

The quest to bridge the socio-economic gap between rural and urban Ghana will receive great impetus if agro-tourism is embraced and given the necessary support to grow. While it is unrealistic to expect a replication of the magnitude of infrastructural development obtainable in the cities in our rural settlements, we can at least work to improve the lot of communities that account for the nutritious agro-products that we continually enjoy.

A thriving agro-tourism sector will gradually but surely help our hinterlands attract better and adequate infrastructure like roads, water-supply, schools etc., as government and investors will be compelled to invest more in these rural communities that can best be described as deprived.

Need for training

To get agro-tourism kicking-on in Ghana, the farmer is undoubtedly the most important stakeholder to target. The reason for this is not far-fetched – many a Ghanaian farmer is bereft of the requisite knowledge to conduct agro-tours, marketing skills to better position their enterprises for revenue generation, or even how to identify the target audience and woo them over to their farms.

Training is therefore crucial to ensure that we don’t start what is clearly a brilliant idea only to slump into an abyss of stagnancy shortly afterward. Adequate training will embolden farmers with the expertise necessary to fully capitalise on the potential of agro-tourism to transform the livelihoods of Ghanaian farmers, improve the lot of the industry and set Ghana on the path to progress.

Conclusion

Obviously, there is more to agriculture than meets the eye. The industry is a source of goodness ordained by the creator for mankind’s benefit. To benefit optimally, however, we must think constructively and commit ourselves to adding value to the industry – as other countries of the world have managed to do so brilliantly.

The world has come to the knowledge of the huge benefits of agriculture, and some countries have taken the lead in exploiting these inherent benefits already. The onus therefore lies on Ghana to identify the vast potential presented by the industry, and make concerted efforts to   ensure that agriculture emerges as the undisputed bedrock for the socio-economic transformation of our dear country, Ghana.

 The writer is the Lead Consultant and Founder – Agrihouse Communications and Agrihouse Foundation