NEELS’ RALLY TENT
Agritourism is an untapped opportunity in South Africa that has the potential to become a pillar of the platteland, says Neels van Heerden.
Every year, in America, more than 60 million tourists visit places such as stud farms and wine estates. It is estimated that such destinations earn billions of dollars from agritourism. In some countries, including Britain and Italy, many farmers make more profit from agritourism than from their traditional farming activities. In South Africa, we don’t have authoritative figures on the size of the local agritourism industry. Farmstay ( farmstay.co.za) has been around more than a decade, but it’s not well-known in the camping community. Farmstay has just over 280 farms listed across all nine provinces. In all of Gauteng there are a mere 22 options available. However, there is a gap in the market for recreational farmers to increase the income from their weekend projects by reclassifying their lands as contributing to tourism. There are also precious few options for camping on Farmstay. My conclusion is that this segment isn’t being targeted specifically by the Farmstay members. As for food and drink, you have many options – from self-catering to sit-down farm dinners. Activities range from enjoying the fresh air and appreciating nature’s constantly changing paintings, to hiking or watching workers shear sheep and dip cattle. Milking cows, filling animal feedtroughs and fishing are also possible.
TWO YEARS ago, a much more extensive initiative was launched, namely Agritourism South Africa (ASA). Any farm or agricultural service provider or product that is tourist-friendly is encouraged to join them. The big difference between Farmstay and ASA is that AgriSA and WWF indirectly support the latter – and it is also a non-profit organisation. According to ASA, only working farms can be marketed as agritourism destinations. Ideally, such a destination would be at most three hours from a city. More remote farmers can work together to develop an agritourism route in a region. ASA aims to promote the farming experience, to inform the community about what farming involves, and to emphasise the contribution that a farming community makes to society. Thus ASA is a link, rather than a booking portal, between its members (the farmers and their staff) and tourists. Farmers are advised to establish and develop a unique tourism product. Small-scale processing of farm products is also encouraged to add value. For example, sell a corn bread rather than just mielies. In this way, the value of the basic product is converted to a higher-value product – such as jam or chutney. Farm workers learn additional skills, and the tourist (the camper) can participate in the cooking of jam, preserving of fruit and veg, and more complicated food processing. Campers can also participate in menu planning for the next day’s meals, develop recipes, and harvest ingredients. See what ASA members have to offer by visiting their website at agritourismsouthafrica.com
WITH EACH of the almost 50 registered destinations, you’ll find a brief description of the accommodation options (especially huts, tents, and caravan sites), safety precautions (security guards, electric fences, rangers) and leisure options. One such destination is Verlorenkloof, which is described as a busy cattle and dairy farm producing its own yoghurt and cheese. Visitors are encouraged to participate in activities at the stables and the dairy. Provision is also made for tourists to give feedback on ASA’s website. This feedback is available for any member of the public to read. So, if camping has become a bit boring for you, or you live from Easter weekend to Easter weekend and always head down to the coast on school holidays, a camping visit to a working farm is perhaps something to add to your travel plans.
In some countries, including Britain and Italy, many farmers make more profit from agritourism than from their traditional farming activities.