Want to milk a cow? Or make friends with an emu (the bird is reared in several parts of Western India for its meat and leather that are exported)? Maharashtra’s Agriculture Tourism Development Corporation (ATDC) is hoping that such offers, with invitations of morning walks in vineyards and breakfasts in fruit orchards thrown in, will have tourists queueing up. Sure enough, its pilot farm-tourism programme at a 100-acre farm in Maharashtra’s Baramati district, the constituency of agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, has drawn 7,000 tourists since its launch late last year.
Its success has captured the attention and imagination of officials from Uttar Pradesh. The state has been trying to come up with a plan to attract tourists ever since Uttarakhand was carved out of it in 2000, and took with it all the popular hill stations located in the Garhwal Himalayas. “We are left with nothing for tourism beyond a few religious sites,” says Puneeta Priyadarshini, deputy director and head of the state’s wing of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), an industry body. The UP wing of CII has asked ATDC to help it develop an agri-tourism plan for the state.
Haryana, another state with not too many attractions for tourists, introduced the concept of farm tourism in 2003 and, according to Mahesh Behl, deputy director, Tourism Haryana, the state’s tourist board, 21 farm owners offer holidays at their farms. “We have had over 10,000 visitors,” says Behl, adding that the number does not include repeat visitors who interact directly with the farm owners.
ATDC’s director, Pandurang Taware, believes revenue from tourism can help farmers offset losses from farming. He claims that 150 farmers have sought the organization’s help to start agri-tourism ventures. ATDC has lined up a clutch of banks, including ICICI Bank, Bank of Baroda and Yes Bank, which are willing to finance such ventures, adds Taware. According to Taware, farmers at Malegaon, where the pilot project is located, are already reporting improved incomes from the tourism project.
On a recent two-day visit, a group of women from Pune had the time of their lives, participating in the day’s activities before visiting the local market to shop. “I went there with my 13-year-old daughter and husband and it was a truly memorable experience,” says Leena Kurup, a 32-year-old software professional from Pune. “My daughter had never seen a cow being milked before.” And the cost of the holiday: Rs 3,000.
ATDC’s Taware says the success of the pilot project shows that there is potential for similar ventures across India. “It’s a win-win proposition. Nearly 75% of our country’s population lives in villages and, for urban residents, this is the perfect opportunity to get close to rural India.” India meets Bharat, and both end up happy.