Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) has identified Agro-tourism as one of the avenues through which the tourism industry will recover from the ruins brought about by the novel Coronavirus. The tour and travel industry has been hit hard by Covid 19 and uncertainty about its future continues to loom.
But since tourism can co-exist with almost any industry, the sectors that are thriving like agriculture, health, manufacturing present an opportunity for tourism to merge with them and be cushioned against the adverse effects the pandemic.
The board over the weekend organised a familization trip to Mbarara, Isingiro and Bushenyi Districts to ascertain opportunities in collaborating and partnering with Agribusiness firms to assist develop an agro tourism product that meets the required standards to host visitors both domestic and foreign.
With SOPs in place, the team toured Excel Hort Consult and Agribusiness Incubator Center (EHCAI), Gudie Incubation farm and Bushenyi youth forum project (Bushenyi Demonstration Farm) where they were introduced to a number of farm products and services ranging from business incubation management, agro-food enterprise development, agribusiness and enterprise development, agri-input and agri-output market development among other services.
All farms visited have unique offerings including among others agricultural activities like urban farming practises, winery, milk production, irrigation practises, piggery farming, brooding, rabit rearing and adoption to technological advancement. This coupled with the serene environment, bird watching activities give a fulfilling experience indicating that agriculture can clearly coexist with tourism.
Agro tourism presents an economic diversification strategy for agriculture and a vehicle to promote rural development. It presents a huge opportunity for job employment and wealth creation for the youth in the country as well as offering benefits for production of food, preserving local culture and protecting environmental assets.
While addressing the media at Excel Hort Consult and Agribusiness Incubator Centre in Mbarara, Lilly Ajarova, CEO Uganda Tourism Board, said that UTB is at a point of product diversification in tourism and agro-tourism presents an opportunity for such.
“It is a very good opportunity for us to start developing agro-tourism for the purpose of product diversification in giving opportunities that are very different to complement what we have in our product offering. It will also expand job opportunities for the young people and agriculture employs majorly the women, the youths and the young people who are employed there.”
“It is against this background that UTB would like to explore possibilities of developing Agro tourism in the Country to help people involved in tourism to have an extra income even when the sector is on a low and in this way fast track achievement of Middle income status as per Vision 2040 and also diversify the tourism product offering in the country.”
“For Agro-tourism to work, we need to build the skill in interpretation of what the agricultural experience is. It is an area that the tourism sector needs to come in as we partner to develop this product that we have capacity built in the young people who will be the guides doing interpretation for the tourists.” Ajarova noted.
She however highlighted that this (Agro-tourism) is an opportunity to build the local tourism since people will be able to visit and experience first-hand information and will in turn be inspired to invest in both agriculture and tourism.
UTB is mandated to liaise with tourism partners to broaden the diversity of appropriate tourism products and services offered in the country to ensure that these products developed align with the UTB’s marketing approach and also conform to international standards.
Alex Abaho, the Director of Excel Hort Consult and Agribusiness Incubator Centre who as well doubles as the CEO of African incubation centre supporting the development of small and medium enterprises in Africa commended UTB and the different government and private entities for supporting their goal of establishing 18 agro-business tourism incubators to support start-ups and SMEs.
“Our goal is to establish an average of 18 agro-business tourism incubation hubs in different regions across the country that will support the entourage of new start-ups and SMEs in the ecosystem. In the next five year, we plan to incubate 27,000 start-ups.”
He further appreciated new relations with UTB towards fulfilling the African Union Agenda 2023 aimed at developing Agriculture and Tourism.
Mr Ariho also revealed that EHCAI is looking towards improving on Research as through this, the Private Sector will liase with Universities for forums on Agribusiness development and Research.
He concluded that, through partnerships with the Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), Agriculture Farm Service Centre for Western region and National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) that mobilise farmers groups and Associations, there’s need to use technology before preparing farmers for their packages and also through collaboration with the Microfinance Support Centre, that will be good for affordable financing to farmers and also make Uganda able to produce profitable crisps which initially were imported from South Africa among other Countries.
Mr John Mujuni, the Research Professor at Makerere University also noted that they have been working together to make Agriculture attractive right from motivating start-ups from incubation, production level until having the product itself.
He revealed that, ‘’Tourism has for long-time been confined to wild animals, national parks, etc and therefore with the diversification of Agro-Tourism, this will be the only way to go so as to develop the agricultural sector.
Nicholas Lubanga, an engineer with the ministry of water and environment under the water and production unit says the ministry has so constructed over 30 irrigation schemes across the country at a free cost to farms that exhibit climate challenges and hence help them practise agriculture throughout the year.
Rukundo Joshua, the director of Gofan safaries – a tour and travel company also noted that tour operators should incorporate agro-tourism into their itinerary since it provides a whole new wide experience for the tourists and the guides.
“Tourists are looking forward to a whole new experience and agro-tourism provides just that. This benefits both parties (tour guides and tourists) due to the wealth of hands on experience they’ll collect when they visit farms.” Rukundo said.