A farm stay (or farmstay) is any type of accommodation on a working farm. Some farm stays may be interactive. Some are family-focused, offering children opportunities to feed animals collect eggs and learn how a farm functions. Others don’t allow children and instead offer a peaceful retreat for adults. For the accommodations, guests normally pay rates similar to area bed & breakfasts or vacation rentals, although pricing varies considerably. The term “farm stay” can also describe a work exchange agreement, where the guest works a set number of hours per week in exchange for free or affordable accommodation.
Possible farm stay accommodations include
• Converted barns/outbuildings
• Farmhouse guest rooms
• Platform tents
• Tent camping
Farm stays can be described as agritourism (a farmer opening his/her farm to tourists for any reason, including farm stands and u-pick), ecotourism (Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people), and geotourism (tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents).
The plantation-rich state’s initiative in launching the spice route project that will trace the two millennium old path traveled by the explorers in search of spices, is expected to bring tourists out in droves with obvious beneficiary being the farm tourism that is fast growing in popularity.Thanks to Brand Kerala, the farm tourism in the country is in for a windfall.
Leveraging on its hugely successful and much acclaimed tourism campaign, Kerala has been able to win the support of Unesco for the project, which will definitely see the involvement of the neighboring southern states, now big spice growing areas. The state has inked an MoU with Unesco and has set up an advisory board comprising heritage experts and government officials.
Next step is a global conclave that will see the representatives of Unesco, UNWTO and 31 countries which traded in the historic route, stretching from Europe, North Africa, Middle East, India, Sri Lanka to South East Asia finalise the blueprint that is known as the inscription, for the route. The conclave initially planned for early this year will now be held after the elections.
“It will take Kerala tourism to the next orbit after its fantastic run of success,” said Kerala Tourism Secretary Suman Billa, who has been instrumental in getting Unesco backing. This has come at a time when the tourism centred on tea, coffee and other plantations is looking up, often supplementing the income from the commodities. The Kerala government’s decision to allow 5% of the plantation land for tourism purposes, has triggered an interest in this field from the plantations groups.
Organic farming major POABS group that recently obtained rain forest alliance certification for its tea plantations in Vandiperiyar, it took over from sick Travancore Tea Company six years ago, is looking keenly at plantation tourism. “We have two bungalows in Nelliyampathy where our organic farming is done. Here there are six bungalows which we will open for visitors soon,” says executive director Bhasi Iype.
Far away in the coffee belt of Wayanad, Aswathi Plantations with 400 acres of coffee crop is witnessing a jump in the tourist arrivals from Europe in its 7-room homestay and two tree houses. “There has been over 20% increase in arrivals in January and February and we are getting repeat requests,” points out Victor Dey, wholetime director of the plantations, who admits that the earnings from tourism has helped boost its income at a time when coffee prices are falling.
More and more foreign visitors prefer not-so-well-known locations that will offer them an ambience of solitude with a local touch. Woodbriar group with 23,000 acres of tea plantations in Tamil Nadu and Kerala has seen a 50 to 60% growth in its tourism activities from its nine bungalows. “We went for aggressive marketing of lesser known locations of Valparai and Meghmalai plantations to foreigners which paid good dividends,” says Tharani Tharan, head of hospitality division of the company.
He feels the spice route tourism will open up more opportunities in the plantation tourism field. “Other southern states like Tamil Nadu has been piggybacking on the success of Kerala tourism.” He expects plantation tourism to help promote its new tea brands. Meanwhile, Kanan Devan Hills Plantations (KDHP), now operating with majority shareholding by its 12,000 employees, is waiting for the court verdict as it is embroiled in a litigation with state government over use of its nine bungalows for tourism purpose.
Inspired by Subash Palekar, a group of zero budget farming enthusiasts here is setting up an integrated farm at Perambra. Named ‘Palekarpuram’, the 16-acre-plot comprising 12 separate farming projects will also be a tourist destination. Towards the south of the state, an organic vegetable farm of Kanjikuzhi Panchayat in Cherthala is evolving as a tourist centre.
But such initiatives to twin tourism with agriculture are not getting the support of the government, farmers feel. The state with close to 3 lakh hectares of land under paddy cultivation is hugely dependent on agriculture, but the government is yet to come out with significant measures to tap the agri-tourism potential, apart from Green Farms, an initiative of Kerala Tourism.
According to Basheer Kalathingal, who has a farm in Palekarpuram, lack of support from the government is the main obstacle faced by the farmers. “This is because Agri-tourism is hardly on government’s agenda,” he said. Sufi healer Hamsa Madikai, on a mission to set up herbal groves across the state, feels that medicinal gardens can be a major source of income for agri-tourism in Malabar.
FARM STAYS IN KERALA
|1.||Greenex Farms – Wayanad||7.|
|2.|| Thomaschettan’s Farmstay –