Potential for agritourism

Nari, Normal

The National – Tuesday, December 21, 2010

THE travel and tourism industry is the number one industry on Earth. Either, conventional mass tourism (eg taking that trip to Paris or Las Vegas) or alternative tourism (eg agritourism, ecotourism, cultural tourism, natural tourism, etc), the World Tourism Organsiation recorded 880 million international arrivals last year.
The alternate tourism is essentially small-scale and low-density tourism which involves tourists with above average incomes but higher education.
Agritourism and ecotourism focus on travel that empowers local communities, both socially and economically.
Agritourism is a niche tourism which is considered a growth industry in many parts of the world including Australia, Canada, the United States and the Philippines.
Agritourism, or agro-tourism, involves travelling around farming, small-scale food production or animal husbandry. Visiting a village farm or ranch for the purpose of enjoyment and education are key aspects of this often rural experience. 
Tourism that respects natural habitats and helps improve the local community is often referred to as ecotourism, or sustainable tourism.
Ecotourism relates to nature conservation, awareness, environmental protection, ecologically sustainable and one that provides financial benefits and empowerment for local people.
An article entitled Ecotravel states that travellers, worldwide, spend US$2-3 trillion on their trips annually of which ecotourism represents about 2% of that total. 
Tourists taking up ecotourism generally spend their eco-vacation at an eco-lodge – a hotel or vacation spot that follows the philosophy of ecotourism.
An eco-lodge is an industry label used to identify a nature-dependent tourist lodge that offers an educational and participatory experience.
Naturally, the vacation experience at an eco-lodge would include an environment that reflects certain features of which “buying food from local farmers by tourists” is an eminent one.
Presently, eco-lodges exist in countries all around the globe – such as Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Trinidad, Kenya, Tanzania and Australia. Eco-lodges offer accommodations from deluxe rooms to outdoor tents. Many provide excellent opportunities for relaxation, experiencing nature and cultural activities.
There are different types of eco-lodges; including those that specialise in adventure travel such as mountain-climbing, backpacking or river expeditions. Others specialise in nature or education-based travel with activities including learning about surrounding wildlife or regional history from a local guide.
Apparently, tourism has strong connection with agriculture, natural ecosystem and hospitality with huge potential for socio-economic benefits to environment and local inhabitants sustainably.
PNG has the opportunity to benefit the 80% farmers and rural communities in agritourism, or ecotourism, given its vast resources.
Morobe is the first in the Pacific to try out a new village movement concept, focusing on agritourism/eco-tourism development, courtesy of the South Korean government.
The pilot project includes the construction of a yam-based tourism facility, the Saemaul eco-lodge, and the production and processing of yams.
This is a cooperation project for rural development between Korea and PNG, facilitated by South Korea’s Kangwon National University and PNG’s NARI.
The South Korean government has invested US$58,900 in this new initiative, which is expected to bring positive developments in agritourism/eco-tourism.
Officially launched last week, the eco-lodge is established at Gabensis village near Lae.
The local community will use the eco-lodge to accommodate tourists visiting Gabensis and the attractive Wanam Lake and enjoy activities like diving, canoeing, fishing, bush tracking and bird watching.
In doing so, they will also spend their money on yams produced and processed at the lodge site by the local community.
The project comprises lodge establishment, yam agronomy and yam processing – all to be facilitated at the project site with the local community.
Under agronomy, interested local farmers will participate in training sessions by NARI on best practice by going through stage-by-stage of the critical production practices so as to impart appropriate and relevant skills for improved production. This training will be provided through the “farmer field school model”.
With food processing, NARI will also demonstrate yam processing techniques for value added products for income generation by the local community.
It is anticipated that once the project is completed, the community will take ownership and promote it to attract tourists and visitors.
PNG foods are perishable and the project will look at food processing and preservation, which will also address value-addition and food security needs.
Similar projects were undertaken in Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Tanzania with the mission to alleviate poverty through agritourism/ecotourism. The outcome of the project will be important to PNG.
For the project to be successful, a major activity will be to attract tourists from the millions in that travel the globe.
Between January and August this year, world tourism barometer records show that worldwide international arrivals stand at 642 million, some 40 million more than during the same months last year (+7%). The growth is expected to continue at a moderate pace next year.
The PNGTPA Garamut newsletter (2010) shows that there were 125,891 international arrivals last year. This may give some indication on the number of tourists travelling which PNG can capture under the alternative tourism category.
For the PNG agri-tourism/eco-tourism to prosper, it needs collaborative efforts involving authorities and agencies in tourism, agriculture, environment conservation and hospitality; local governments; interested local communities and other stakeholders.
The diversified flora and fauna, the natural agriculture-based economy, and human skills provide huge potentials for effective partnerships for agritourism/eco-tourism development in PNG.