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To most of us, the moment the word Tourism is mentioned, we automatically think of mzungu folk flying over continents to come and see our wildlife. For most of these tourists, the bliss of seeing wild animals roaming in their natural habitat has a great pull on them. And because of this, it’s no surprise that Tourism is the 2nd largest source of foreign exchange revenue following agriculture right here in Kenya. In a quest to make the tourism industry more robust, questions have been asked. What else apart from wildlife can compel visitors to travel to our country in large numbers? What forms of tourism are there which we need to take advantage of? Can we sell our unique culture and give visitors a taste of our history and people?
Can we sell Nairobi as the number one stop for holding high profile conferences? Can athletes from other nations jet in the country in drones and train with our own? Now, while I appreciate all these forms of tourism, I’m here to make a case for what I choose to call Agri-Tourism. Somewhat still an unfamiliar concept, yet with undeniable potential.
Agri-tourism, in simple terms, involves any agriculturally based operation or activity that brings visitors to a farm or ranch. But the question is, why would anyone be interested in seeing farms or ranches? Is there anything spectacular in seeing a farm full of wheat? Or cabbages? Well, all these are valid questions asked. And I’m here to plead my case. See, the heart of Agri-tourism is not just staring at beautiful farms and sites, but most importantly, the person visiting can also learn new tricks of effective farming. At the very heart of this form of tourism is the learning process which leaves the tourist in a better position than he or she was, in terms of acquired knowledge. It will be difficult to support my point if I didn’t have any case studies to be analyzed. The good news however, is that I do have great examples that can support this concept.
Farm Concern International has been on the fore front of facilitating Agri-Tourism in its day to day activities. The fundamental cause of this venture is nothing but to empower the smallholder farmer which is the core mission of the organization. Needless to say, FCI treasures capacity building and the reason for its existence is to improve the livelihood and general welfare of the smallholder farmer. And one of the ways FCI does this is facilitating farm exchange visits to the smallholder farmers it works with.
For instance, in the month of September this year, a group of Rwandese farmers came calling to Kenya. Through a farm visit facilitated by FCI, these tourists cum farmers did not come to Kenya just for the sake of the beautiful scenery and warm hospitality of Kenyans, but they came to learn as well. One of the Rwandese farmers, Ingabire Francine, said that the trip was an eye opener for her and the rest of the Rwandese farmers who came; from the warm welcome by their hosts in Nairobi and the positive reception in all the sites they visited. The exchange visit was meant to empower the Rwandan farmers and help them gain insight and new knowledge on new ways to farm. The Rwandese farmers visited the Mt Kenya hub where FCI works with countless of smallholders. There was the visit to Kieni West District about 134 kilometers from Nairobi on the leeward side of Mt Kenya, along the famed slopes of Mt Kenya region. Their first stop was Embaringo Commercial Village. The Commercial Village Committee warmly welcomed the team, and explained their achievement since they started working with FCI. Mr David Kimongo the chairman of the commercial village articulated that before working with FCI, everyone was working independently, cultivating for subsistence use.
The team also visited Mr. Daniel Gakuo’s red onion bulb nursery beds. They were very impressed to see such a big nursery for onions. Mr. Gakuo left his job where he was employed as an accountant and started doing commercial red onion bulb farming. He works in his farm with his children to increase production. He initially started with four acres but has since expanded by leasing land to increase production since the market is very wide and he could not satisfy it with only four acres. Farmers from Rwanda learnt how to establish onion nursery beds, how to target the markets and do collective action.
By getting to see these sites first hand, the experience goes a long way in etching the lessons learnt in the minds of these farmers who then go back to their own farms and apply the knowledge acquired. Perhaps this form of tourism might not be as popular as recreational, social or even conference tourism, but I think it is time our government and other development agencies thought of facilitating such exchange visits in order to improve the knowledge base of smallholders. The African continent is dogged by problems like food insecurity and while I appreciate many ways that have been formulated to solve these problems, Agri-Tourism should also be considered as a valid option. So, do you still think Agri Tourism is a farfetched concept? I’m hoping the good examples outlined above have proved otherwise.
FCI VISION :Commercialized smallholder communities with increased incomes for improved, stabilized & sustainable livelihoods in Africa and beyond.