While embarking on a solo mission of promoting the concept of Agri Tourism from his own small farm in Baramati in 2005, Pandurang Taware only had just over a decade of sales and marketing experience in the hospitality industry. Today, while looking back, Taware has the satisfaction that he has been able to start a movement which not only helped farmers supplement their farm income but also encouraged a new generation to stay rooted in their farms for a sustainable living.
Starting from Baramati, there are over 1000 farms associated with the Agri Tourism network spread across 32 districts in Maharashtra today. When it comes to revenue generated, although it differs from district to district and region to region, Taware says that the average increase in the income is not less than 30% in any farm. “In Western Maharashtra, farm income has doubled due to Tourism. In districts like Solapur, Latur, Beed, etc. the increase is 40 to 45%,” he says.
Governments cannot give jobs to every farmer’s son or daughter. But with Tourism, they need not to migrate to cities for jobs. They can find income by remaining in the farm. With tourists buying the farm products directly, farmers get good prices for their produce, reducing the dependence on middle men, Taware says.
In Maharashtra, the Education department mandates students of Class V to X to visit the farms as part of their learning and curriculum. This helps students to learn first hand what they study in their classrooms. But study groups are not the only segment of visitors to these farms, Taware says. “In 2019-20, more than seven lakh general interest tourists visited registered farms,” he says. “Every year we do research on the visitor numbers, employment generated, income generated, etc. and submit reports to the government,” he informs.
The concept has shaped up quite well in Maharashtra with the State formulating its own Agri Tourism Policy, setting up an expert advisory committee that guides the State government on Agri Tourism, etc. Taware himself is a key member in that Committee.
There is a lot of interest from other states also to leverage the potential of Agri Tourism. Taware’s advice and support is being used by States like Karnataka, MP, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, etc.
Moreover, the Ashok Dalwai committee appointed by Prime Minister Modi to suggest ways to double farm income has also included 10 pages on Agri Tourism and its potential in their final report to the government. “I am quite happy the way the Ashok Dalwai committee has taken my inputs for the report,” he adds.
Taware organises a number of training workshops to educate the farming community on how to set up Agri Tourism centres. Farmers are by nature hospitable people. Through our workshops, we train them on housekeeping, hygiene, sanitation, etc. For existing stakeholders, they also organised advanced workshops on how to take feedback from visitors, how to promote projects through social media, etc. as well.
“Between May 16, 2020, the World Agri Tourism Day, and September 27, 2020, the World Tourism Day, we had conducted 10 facebook live programmes where people from Scotland to West and East Coast of the US, to Africa and Thailand, etc. shared their Agri Tourism experiences and how it is practiced and benefited,” Taware says.
Taware has won a number of national and international awards for his work in AgriTourism and Rural and Sustainable Tourism areas. These include National Tourism Award By Ministry of Tourism for Best Responsible Tourism project; National Innovative Farmer Award by Ministry of Agriculture (ICAR); World Responsible Tourism Gold Award by WTM; Lakbay Bukid Award 2019, for Development & Promotion of Farm Tourism in Asia, by ISST in collaboration with The Philippine Department of Tourism, among others.
Taware is currently working with several Central Agriculture universities in the country to include Agri Tourism as part of their syllabus. Globally, he is working actively with other visionaries in this niche segment of tourism to set up a platform for Agri Tourism in the lines of UNWTO.