The director of the Central Coastal Agricultural Research Institute (CCARI) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), E Chakurkar has called upon farmers in the state to take up agro-ecotourism to augment their income. We cannot but agree with Chakurkar that agriculture can become a good business with value addition and technology. The CCARI launched agro-ecotourism on its campus at Old Goa, offering to tourists experience of various components such as agriculture, organic harvesting and ecosystem. Tourism has emerged as one of the mainstays of Goan economy, with an increasing number of people engaged in traditional businesses such as fishing deriving benefit from it. However, the coastal areas of the state have benefitted the most from tourism, resulting in concentration of businesses. The hinterland has received a poor share of tourism. Farmers have not been encouraged to set up tourism-oriented businesses on their farms, though there are a few individual enterprises that have come up in the last few years. The state government has been talking of taking tourism to the hinterland for close to two decades but has not done anything to seriously promote it. Giving incentives to entrepreneurial farmers to set up agro-ecotourism businesses could help them get a share of income from tourism.
The government has been speaking of promoting organic farms but has not been able to turn its assurance into practice. An organic farm will not only fetch premium returns for its produce but also draw tourists. There are farmers in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and other states who have developed organic farms and have set up attractions to draw tourists. The state tourism has been trying to promote eco tourism, but it has not succeeded in making it a big attraction. Tourists visit about half a dozen agro-eco tourism centres in Goa and buy produce there and also eat the food served there. If more attractive agro eco-centres are set up, tourists would not mind going distances to visit them. With tourism-related activities concentrated along the coast, the government should take steps to help the people in the hinterland areas benefit from tourism-related activities such as agro-ecotourism. The Central Coastal Agricultural Research Institute (CCARI) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research presents a good model for entrepreneurs to follow.
Goan farmers have been losing interest in farming owing to rising cost and poor returns. Even the farmers who used to grow produce for their family consumption prefer to buy them from the stores. Interest in farming can be revived by adding value to agriculture, because it would generate additional income. There are some farmers’ clubs in Goa producing crops in a traditional and organic ways. Their produce is in demand in and outside Goa. The government can work with the farmers’ clubs to help farmers change their profile. Some states have benefitted from promotion of agro-ecotourism but Goa has lagged behind. Goa has a brand image of being green and blessed with Nature’s gifts. Developing eco tourist and agro-eco-tourist attractions in Goa should be easier than in other states. However, this has not happened. The tourism and agriculture departments should work in coordination to capitalize on the brand image of Goa. Farmers could be trained at the ICAR’s model training centre at Old Goa before they go on to set up their own centres. The government should support the training programme and provide the farmers assistance to start their ventures.
Five years ago, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar announced that his government would promote ecotourism and agricultural ventures for Goan youth. The state has not been able to make any headway in promotion of eco-tourism or agriculture. The government has been talking of promoting hinterland tourism to dispel the notion that the state has nothing but beaches but it has done hardly anything to add new profiles to the tourism. Studies have revealed that most travellers favour environment-friendly tourism and are willing to pay more for such experience. Tourism is human-resource intensive industry, employing directly and indirectly a sizeable workforce. Development of agro-ecotourism will not only provide employment opportunities to the locals but also prevent labour migration to urban and distant areas. Studies have revealed that a more sustainable tourism in rural areas could lead to more positive poverty-reducing effects. Agro-ecotourism promotion would also help promote bio-diversity and boost dignity of farmers. The state should act fast to promote agro-ecotourism. Development of agro-ecotourism will impart respectability to working a livelihood out of land and bring back Goans to the farms.