Strengthening the Rural Economy is EVERY South African’s responsibility – the role Agritourism plays is NOT about tourism, it is about enhancing the SUSTAINABILITY of rural communities where farmers are the backbone of the rural economy. Agritourism ONLY takes place on a WORKING FARM – in other words, farming is the CORE activity.
A slightly warped view of the life of a farmer and those who live in rural areas, exists in South Africa largely because communication has been one-sided i.e. from people who live in cities and because Rural Development policies have been driven by people sitting in offices.
In October last year, I took my two 15-year old girls and my Mother on a journey into rural South Africa to meet farmers and to see the many rural towns that were in a state of decay due to poverty and unemployment. Rural towns are a true reflection on the state of ‘health’ of any nation and the South Africa is no exception. Extreme rural poverty is the norm in many areas.
The FAO 2018 report released by the United Nations shows a significant increase in employment due to migration to urban centres, compared to those people who continued to live in rural areas. A total of 40% of rural dwellers who were employed in 2008 became economically inactive or unemployed in 2014, compared to only 21% who had chosen to migrate to cities. Quite clearly, rural development policies have not worked.
As we drove through some of the areas worst hit by rural poverty, we learnt about how valuable the role of farmers is in rural communities.
The first overnight stop was on a small holding near Ladismith which in the 1960’s had been a thriving community with its own railway station, school, shops etc. The collapse of this town was caused when the Railways did not repair the track after a flash flood which washed away part of the railway track. The railway track can still be seen, but without the railways bringing in supplies of food, the community dwindled and is now a ghost town.
The following day, we drove through the rural towns of Amalienstein and Zoar, mission stations from the 1800’s where communities still live today. As we drove through the town, we saw many of its inhabitants sitting in the streets in the morning, when most people in towns would be at work.
We left the following morning to drive through the magnificent Kamannassie valley with its old farm houses, some of which were empty, but there were still farmers who were continuing to farm different types of fruit. One could see the poverty, despite the natural beauty of the valley. We stayed that night on a farm outside De Rust, where a very fit woman farmer, Maggie aged 75, took the girls hiking up the mountains behind her farm to see the natural waterfall, leaving the girls in her dust as she clambered over rocks. The girls then helped her feed the lambs, put the sheep in their pens and laid down the irrigation pipes for the next day. The girls were quite clearly exhausted when they arrived at the farm accommodation cottages, but not Maggie. She went home to bake home-made bread which she then bought up to the cottage.
Over the 6 days we had several different Agritourism experiences, all of which were unique because the farmers had different approaches to their guests, but farming remained their priority. All were very hospitable and generous, opening up their homes to guests. What impressed us, was the employment opportunities they were creating for women on their farms, who had not been able to earn an income before.
Farmers that we visited all understood that diversification was necessary and that they had a duty to assist in keeping local communities actively employed. If for no other reason, this is why all South Africans should support our farmers with their Agritourism initiatives. At the end of the day, South Africa as a country, benefits from having farmers who care about providing food, employment and keeping rural South Africa economically active.
Written by Jacqui Taylor