Many tourists long to be away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Amid the tranquil surroundings of a farm lies the secret to happiness and peace sought after by visitors. Most foreigners come to Kerala seeking solace in terms of its unique flora and fauna. In addition to this, yoga, Ayurveda, and numerous rejuvenation therapies such as Kalari medicine add to the opportunities that an entrepreneur can make use of to earn a decent income. All these forms can be combined with farm tourism.
Many homestay operators have already added farm tourism to their itinerary even though not on a scientific basis. It is here that the Government of Kerala has to step in to add benchmarks to farm tourism in terms of training and authorization. The government organizations like KITTS with over 30 years of experience in tourism training is ideally poised to address these requirements.
Farm tourism usually involves- accommodation, farm visits, farm shop visits, guided walks, and farm activities. The use of indigenous methods and organic farming is widely accepted and is popular among tourists. Many destinations like Kanthalloor located near Munnar has gone a long way in developing farm tourism. Nelliyampathy, the beautiful hill destination of Palakkad is another shining example where farm tourism has been successfully applied.
Requirements to start a farm tourism endeavour
An individual or a group wishing to start a farm tourism endeavour should be in possession of at least 10 acres of plantation at or near a tourist centre or along an established tourist circuit or major transport corridor. Another option is to be part of Green Farms Kerala.
The farm also needs a sufficient parking area, well-developed entry area, ticket counter, guardroom, gate, name boards, etc, fully covered compound wall at entry area, stalls or shopping area outside or inside the farm, restaurants/coffee shop/snack bar, walkways, signage, etc. within the farm, toilet facilities inside and outside the farm and brochures.
Packages and tours that can be offered
Depending on the strengths of the destination, packages can be designed. The following options can be considered depending on the availability of resources- trekking, boating, and fishing. Some homestay owners help visitors cook food using traditional methods. In addition to this, interaction with domestic animals such as cows, goats, and sheep are other ways of experiencing village life. In addition to this, ethnic art forms and cultural shows are arranged by enterprising entrepreneurs. Birding is another major form of tourism activity that is gaining popularity in Kerala.
Marayoor, a scenic village located near Munnar is a classic example where village life experiences have been converted in packages. The traditional recipes made by the local community are a great hit among tourists. Trained by the Kerala Institute of Tourism and Travel Studies (KITTS), Women self-help groups formed after attending the skill development programme conducted by the institute have started making livelihood. This not only sustains their family but a community as a whole in Marayoor. Farm tourism is also linked to these activities in addition to protecting house sparrows through the hugely successful Back to Nest initiative.
Scope of farm tourism in Kerala
Agriculture is a way of life in Kerala from time immemorial. Even in this cyber age, a large number of youngsters not to speak of the traditional farmers have embraced farming not only for a living but as a passion. In districts like Wayanad, Idukki, Palakkad, Pathanamthitta, and Kottayam, the farming community occupies a unique place in society. Kuttanad, the rice bowl of Kerala in spite of the repeated floods with constant support from the government is a shining example of the farming culture of Kerala.
Many tourism destinations in Kerala are intrinsically linked to the unique crops grown in there. A classic example is Munnar where tea plantations on the slopes of its rolling hills are its Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Similar is the case of Wayanad where spices and the unique produce from the bamboo rule the roost. If the uniqueness of a particular destination is linked to farm tourism without disturbing nature’s balance, this will be beneficial to the local community and the state as a whole in terms of livelihood and income.
Kerala, the land of a plethora of natural bounties is ideally poised to become a farm tourism destination. Much needs to be done in terms of setting up standards for this endeavour. Even though many farm tourism entrepreneurs have set up farms in the State, it needs to be standardized. Once a system is in place, the scope is immense for developing farm tourism in other districts other than those mentioned. For example, even though Thiruvananthapuram does not figure among the destinations mentioned in this article it is very much an agriculture-oriented district. In similar lines other destinations can be brought into the farm tourism map for the future. Implementation of farm tourism with a futuristic view keeping in mind its impact on the economy and society will pave way for better tomorrow.
(The authors are assistant professors at KITTS)