The response to the agri-tourism policy has been highly encouraging even in the year of the Covid Pandemic.
On the occasion of 14th World Agri-tourism day on 16th May, the Department of Tourism, Government of Maharashtra is organizing an International Conference on Agri Tourism on 15th-16th of May 2021. Maharashtra is working to implement and promote agri-tourism, rural tourism, and sustainable tourism. Last year, the state government had announced the agri-tourism policy which underlines the importance of agri-tourism initiatives for sustaining rural economic development. This 2 day International conference is organized which will have both National and International Stakeholders from Italy, the Philippines, South Africa, Scotland, and other countries who will be discussing various opportunities on agri-tourism, especially sustainable entrepreneurship opportunities for rural women. In an exclusive conversation with the Financial Express Online Valsa Nair, IAS, Principal Secretary, Tourism & Culture talked about the agenda of the International Conference and various Agri Tourism & Rural Tourism initiatives that are in the pipeline. Excerpts:
How has Covid-19 pandemic impacted agri-tourism and what are the solutions the government is planning to take to improve the situation?
Industries across the spectrum have been impacted by the pandemic, the travel and tourism industry has felt the maximum impact. Almost all tourism verticals – leisure, adventure, heritage, MICE, cruise, corporate, and niche segments such as agri-tourism and rural tourism are severely affected. Maharashtra Tourism has been taking several ground-breaking initiatives to revive the tourism industry. Maharashtra is the pioneer State to develop and promote agri tourism in the country. It fully acknowledges that agri-tourism contributes to sustainable rural development and farm income diversification. One of the recent key initiatives undertaken by the State Govt., includes the implementation of the Agri-Tourism policy. The policy underlines the importance of agri-Tourism initiatives for sustaining rural economic development as it allows farmers to diversify their income and provide employment to youth and women in rural areas.The implementation process of the policy has already begun. We have reached out to the farming community to educate about the policy as well as to conduct capacity-building programs. The department of agriculture was also informed to carry out the same initiatives by involving the taluka and district officers.We will continue to make sincere efforts to promote this sector across the State.
How is the response received for the Agri Tourism policy that was launched last year?
The response to the agri-tourism policy has been highly encouraging even in the year of the Covid Pandemic. We have around 250 units that have applied for registration since the policy was launched. The response is excellent over all parts of the State. The Directorate has organized 14 training camps for the potential entrepreneurs to get into agro tourism centres. It is hoped that by the third year of the policy, we would be in a position to double the farmers’ income from sources of revenue.
What are your plans to strengthen the agri tourism sector in the State?
The Department has drawn an action plan for strengthening the agro tourism sector. We will focus on skilling in the sector along with a set of backward and forward linkages with self help groups, farmers markets, rural artisans, home chefs, etc. We are hoping to create an accessible market for farm goods at these centres. An ideal agro tourism centre will be set up in every district to learn farming. Sustainable practices in this sector are being focused upon.
How do you plan to promote agri-tourism and expand in all the regions of the State?
Maharashtra has 328 agri-tourism centers across 29 districts including Pune, Aurangabad, villages near Nagpur, and the tribal belt of Thane district. Since its inception, farmers across the State have gained a 25% growth in their incomes. These agri-tourism centres recorded 4.7 lakhs, 5.3 lakhs, 7.9 lakhs tourists visit in 2018, 2019, and 2020 respectively, which helped the farmers to generate cumulative revenue/income of Rs 55.79 crore. Besides, the agri-tourism initiative helped create more than 1 lakh jobs for women and youth in the rural areas.Several instances in the districts like Raigad, Pune, and Satara have proved that agri-tourism positively impacts farmers’ lives and the whole village from a social and economic perspective. It is our effort to organize Study Tours of Agro Tourism practitioners from one part of the state to another to share best practices and adopt those practices.
We are looking at organizing a virtual B2B conference and travel marts. The Department of Tourism will provide the booking engines for tourists to reserve accommodation in agro tourism units. We are planning to organize agro tourism-based tourism festivals, for eg. Mango Festival (Ratnagiri), Orange Festival (Nagpur), Grape Festival (Nashik), Chickoo Festival (Dahanu). This will brand the destination as well as encourage the agro tourism centres. We plan to further develop and promote the agri-tourism sector across the State.
Tell us the agenda of this conference and what should people expect from it? Will there be any special announcement on agri tourism?
To commemorate the 14th World Agri-Tourism Day (16th May), the Department of Tourism, Maharashtra Government is organizing ‘International Conference on Agri Tourism’ on 15th and 16th May 2021. The objective of the conference is to explore sustainable entrepreneurship opportunities for rural women through agri-tourism.The conference will provide a platform for national and international experts, researchers, and farmers to share their experience and present examples of successful agri-tourism practices from various countries including Italy, Oregon, Illinois, Vermont, Uganda, South Africa, Philippines, Scotland, Spain, and Thailand.
The event will offer an overarching understanding of the agri-tourism sector, its challenges and opportunities, and will develop recommendations and an action plan that will guide the efforts of strengthening the agri-tourism sector. Furthermore, it will showcase the vital role played by the rural women as enablers of sustainable and socially responsible tourism.The international conference will also celebrate the excellence and success of Women farmers and Agri-tourism practitioners by felicitating them with ‘World Agri Tourism Awards 2021’.