The Bold Voice of J&K

Agro-ecotourism-A Tool for Sustainable Development

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Dr. Banarsi Lal

The urban stress has led to growing interest in the rural areas. We all know that real India resides in the villages. Industrialization and development is mostly urban centric. Agro-eco-tourism (AET) is a new concept in the tourism industry. It normally occurs on farms and is associated with the agriculture. It is the symbiotic association of farming sector, tourism industry and farm business. It can create the job opportunities for the rural people. The concept of agro-ecotourism entails visiting a working farm or any agriculture, horticulture or agribusiness operation, for the purpose of leisure, refreshment, recreation, education and active involvement in the activities of the agriculture including agricultural operations, fishing, dining and celebrating local festivals with the farming communities. The development of agro-ecotourism is primarily aimed to give awareness and knowledge on conservation of environment and natural resources in a participatory mode with farmers and to improve their socio-economic status. Agro-eco-tourism (AET) as an enterprise possesses immense potential to boost the economic growth especially in the rural areas. Environmental consciousness, increasing interest in culture and heritage, improving villages’ accessibility etc. are the factors responsible which are shifting the trend towards agro-ecotourism. Under this scheme key geographic regions are identified for the development of agro-ecotourism. Jammu and Kashmir has tremendous potential for agro-ecotourism due to its unique heritage, culture and natural attractions. Agro-ecotourism is possible in J&K where about 80 per cent people reside in the villages. It can create new jobs in rural areas, attract many youths for rural employment and can slow down the migration of rural people towards the urban areas. Indeed, the economic activity occurs when people link travel with agricultural products, services or experiences to cater the needs of mutual demands. Agro-eco-tourism (AET) provides an opportunity to experience the real enchanting and authentic contact with the rural life, taste the traditional food and get experienced with the various farming tasks. This tourism enterprise keeps the tourists relaxed and helps to revitalize in the pure natural environment, surrounded by magnificent agricultural setting. It would also provide tourists with an opportunity to be close to where about 70% of Indians live.
Jammu and Kashmir is one of the most beautiful tourists’ destinations in the world. This beautiful Union Territory(UT) is characterized by scenic beauty, folded mountains, gushing fountains, cool pollution free breeze, deep gorges, rich wild life, natural waterfalls, alpine pastures, lush green forests, snow clad fields, carpet green turfs, lofty skying grounds, charming gardens, shimmering lakes, apple orchards, benevolent people etc. The industrial sector in J&K is not well developed and Agro-eco-tourism (AET) can play a significant role for the upliftment of the rural economy of the UT. It can improve the quality of life of the rural people of J&K. Agro-eco-tourism (AET) entrepreneurship has gained importance as it is seen as a major driving force behind Agro-eco-tourism (AET). J&K has lot to offer to the tourists across the globe because of its scenic beauty, a kaleidoscope of traditions, a variety of cultures and an array of opportunities to explore the outdoors activities through sporting and adventure activities. J&K possess rich diversity of flora and fauna and there are large numbers of international and domestic tourists’ destinations throughout the Union Territory.J&K is one of the most important places in terms of tourism in India. Religious places like Raghunath Temple, Amarnath, Mata Vaishno Devi shrine, Shiv Khori Shrine, Baba Aghar Jitto Ji, Siarh Baba, Nao Devian, Deva Mai, Dhansar Baba etc. are in J&K and pilgrims from across the globe used to visit these spots throughout the year and pay homage. Considering this scope for combining the natural resource available in J&K synergistically with agriculture and tourism activities, it is essential to promote the concept of Agro-eco-tourism (AET) in the Union Territory.
The successful Agro-eco-tourism models can act as a sustainable source of income for rural youths and farm women of the UT. Diversity of flora and fauna can be sustainably utilized through AET. Apart from the core agricultural activities, the animals and fish components can easily be linked with agro-eco-tourism to effectively blend the natural resources within the system in an integrated manner. However, there are no systematic guidelines for the functioning of AET models. There is need to investigate and document the status of AET models in J&K, to study the sustainability of agro-ecotourism model and to promote the agri-tourism entrepreneurship in J&K. Plash (Butea Monosperma) and Kachnar (Bouhnia Bahalai) can be useful to make eco-friendly cup and plates and by establishing such types of units employment can be created in the rural areas of J&K. Cottages for lodging and dining of the visitors can be constructed. Horticultural crops nursery activities can be promoted to educate the visitors or tourists about plant propagation techniques. As J&K is rich in biodiversity so biodiversity parks can be established. Bamboo/wooden handicrafts units can also be established in J&K. Ponds can be developed for initiating the fish angling/boating activities in the UT for the tourists. Primary processing units, value addition kiosks and packaging units for fruits, oil extraction units, vegetables and spices can be established. Rural museums containing the villages’ ancestral items can also attract the tourists in J&K.
Agro eco- tourism is different from other sectors of industry. The agro- ecotourism industry can earn a huge amount of money and thus can enhance the income and employment in the rural areas of J&K. It can thus be a source of aid from within the Union Territory, country and out of country. Agro eco-tourism is directly helpful in correcting UT’s economic position and thus can divert the rural people towards progress. Through Agro eco-tourism, government can gain more economic profits from taxes on things tourists use and buy. Agro-eco-tourism can become a major sector influencing all aspects of the rural people. Government should take proper measures for creating framework for the promotion of agro-ecotourism in J&K. The technical expertise is also required for successful promotion of agro eco-tourism and for that purpose Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) of SKUAST-J and SKAUST-J can play the pivotal role. There is need of proper planning and effective legislation for resource conservation and balanced developmental activities for the promotion of Agro- ecotourism in J&K.
Agro-eco-tourism units in J&K can help to demonstrate and promote the concept of the agro-eco-tourism to farmers, entrepreneurs, researchers, students and related stakeholders in a scientific manner. The components from agriculture, livestock and fisheries can be included in these units. Indigenous and new varieties of field and horticultural crops can be maintained in the units to serve as information to the visitors and to create awareness about bio diversity in the area. Biodiversity parks comprising of different species (herbs, shrubs, climbers, trees etc.) can be demonstrated in the units. A fish pedicure unit and a public aquarium complex can be maintained. Major fisheries resources of this area can also be displayed in the AET unit. Other important components are apiculture, recycling of biodegradable waste through composting and vermi-composting, organic inputs preparations, nursery and plant propagation activities etc. Rabbit units and ornamental poultry units can also be established in J&K. Systematic research on development of ecofriendly and sustainable Agro-eco-tourism models to improve the farm income and improve the socio-economic status of the farmers of hilly areas is also needed.
There is need to promote the sustainable and ecofriendly Agro-eco-tourism models. There is also need to impart knowledge on sustainable Agro-eco-tourism practices through awareness, trainings and demonstrations.
The writer is: Scientist and Head of KVK, Reasi SKUAST-J).

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