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Niche market in agro-tourism

By Kudakwashe Gwabanayi

THE main idea of venturing into farming is to make money. Of course a lot of people do it out of passion, but at the end of the day, if one does not realise profits they will eventually fold operations.

It does not matter at what stage a farmer decides to reap his profits because farming allows one to pass the risk to the next person.

Broiler chicken farmers can sell their birds at half price (average US$3,50) at four weeks old before they reach maturity and still realise profits. This is because as the chicken grows bigger it requires more food.

The same can be said for cabbage farmers, who can sell their nursery and make profits passing the risk of a flooded market to the next farmer. So in essence we are saying whether you sell your onions fresh or wait for them to dry is entirely up to you, depending on your trading advantages.

There is one easy way of making money in farming that many Zimbabwean farmers are oblivious of which is called agro-tourism.

This involves any agriculturally based operation or activity, which brings visitors to a farm. Usually the visitors pay.

In Cape Town, South Africa, the most common place for agro-tourism is the Polkadraai Strawberry Farm.

It offers strawberry picking as an activity, where a visitor pays US$2 or rand equivalent to pick strawberries that fill up a  1litre jug.

The place is very familiar with children, especially those under 12 years of age, who also get to enjoy tractor rides, horse rides and swimming in a natural dam.

Because of its popularity, the place has been forced to grow into a golf course as well so that parents can drop their children at the strawberry section while they play golf on the same farm.

Regular visits — about 500 a week —have also pushed the farm to establish a restaurant after realising that many people were bringing in packed lunch.

This is one concept that many Zimbabwean farmers can explore, considering that school children around cities have a limited options of where to go on school trips.

In 2017, the then Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development appointed a board to campaign and conscientise farmers about the possible, unlimited benefits of agro-tourism but there were few takers for it. The programme was being spearheaded by the Youth Desk Co-ordinator Nickros Kajengo.

Four years, there is nothing to show for this effort and it might as well have died.

The concept is very easy to adopt in that all that one needs is to practice smart farming and doing things out of the box.

Visitors are lured by the extraordinary activities that will be offered on the farm.

Currently, goat farming has taken Zimbabwe by storm.

Although those that are doing it are usually breeders and meat producers, there is an opportunity to make money with goats through agro-tourism.

Activities like milking goats can be enticing to visitors. With larger goat breeds, like the boer and kalahari, they can be trained to offer rides to young children.

Goat kids are also a darling to children. They are energetic, even at two days old.

Fish farming is also another area that can be explored for agro-tourism. With aqua facilities, one can invite guests to fish from the small and manageable water bodies instead of going to crocodile infested lakes like Chivero or Kariba. The same facilities can be used for other activities like under water diving and swimming.

Another way of doing it is making small 30m by 20m beds and then hire them out to visitors. They will take care of their small plot for at least four months. This is one activity that can be taken up by people, including the youths.

There are people who love farming out there living in flats, closed communities or in high density areas, where there is no space for agribusiness.

Farms surrounding towns can offer a rent-a-garden for such people so that they can live out their passions and grow fresh vegetables.

People can also try their hand in ox-drawn scotch cart racing. The cart can also be pulled by donkeys for those who want high speed chases. It can even be improvised, mechanised and modernised into tractor racing.

The notion of agro-tourism is universal and culturally entrenched in different people’s way of life. In Australia, people pay AUD$3,10 (US$2,25) per head for sheep shearing. This exercise is also known as de-wooling and is also common in New Zealand where one pays an average of NZD$2,20 (US$1,53) to remove wool around a sheep. The practice is also trending in America where sheep shearing costs US$3,75.

Considering that Zimbabwe now has a staggering 96% unemployment rate, and commercial farming is capital intensive, especially at the set up stages, farmers need to start thinking about how to make people spend money on their land other than the traditional means of farming.

With the way Zimbabweans love traditional fruits like mashuku, one can plant an orchard of traditional fruits.

It is important to engage relevant education ministries so that as part of career guidance, school children visit farms, spend a day or two experiencing farm operations so that they can make informed decision on how they can make money through farming.

Universities and colleges must be challenged to offer a curriculum that is appealing and attractive to potential farmers.

  • Gwabanayi is a practising journalist and a farmer in his own right. — 0772 865 703 or gwabanayi@gmail.com

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