Wed, 22 Sep 2021

NAIROBI, Aug. 3 (Xinhua) -- As the pandemic continues hampering international tourism, more Kenyans become keen on local agro-tourism. Unending stretches of tea plantations dominate the landscape of Limuru town, some 30 km away from the Kenyan capital city, Nairobi.

In it sits an expansive 40-acre farmhouse that has roared back to life to allow visitors to sample its exciting ventures, following months of reduced activity due to the global pandemic.

"The most immediate effect of the pandemic on the business was that we lost bed bookings. We have a capacity of hosting ten adults in our lodges but we were down to four or fewer," Anne Nthenya, the farm manager told Xinhua in a recent interview.

"However, right now we seem to be regaining our footing. We have accommodation bookings back to back and groups are starting to come out for hiking in our tea and forest trails," said Nthenya.

The vast farmhouse came into existence in 1992 with the intent of producing fresh vegetables for commercial purposes. In the ensuing years, it expanded in size to create room for large swaths of tea plantations, a forest cover, shelter for animals such as cows, donkeys, horses, and accommodation.

The expansion allowed it to adopt a concept of allowing guests to visit the farm to enjoy its offerings: agro-tourism. Nthenya asserted that business is improving, remaining coy about the average earnings from tourists since some COVID-19 restrictive measures were lifted early this year.

"Since May 2021 when things started improving we have been getting around 15 guests daily on average. We charge around 1,800 shillings per hour for horseback riding and 500 shillings for hikes and educational tours," said Nthenya. The accommodation goes for 184 to 276 dollars per night.

Agro-tourism has often found itself competing for tourists with the more endearing tourism outings such as safari and seaside exploits. With minimal visibility and a modest number of farms offering the experience, its full potential is yet to be realized by farmers and the entire tourism industry.

In a steady shift of circumstance, several farmers seem to be adopting this government backed-concept to enhance their earnings and satisfy the curiosity of adventurers on the operations of a farm.

"You have quite a number of tea farms offering tours around us. We have a Kiambethu tea farm which has been doing it for some time and other smallholder farmers are also joining in," said Nthenya. Now there are 12 permanent workers working on the farm.

A few kilometers away from the farm, a small gathering of millennials is taking pictures on a path straddled by tea bushes. Their laughter resounds throughout, breaking the silence of the surrounding environment.

"We used to go to farms as children and we would be so happy to see milk being packed or rice being dried and then we grew up and the farm visits stopped but now we want to revive that," said Esther Nyamwamu, one of the friends.

With an aim to revive the tourism industry, the government's tourism marketing agency, Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) has been running agro-tourism promotional messages to encourage visitors to sample packages curated within farms.

One of the perks of agro-tourism is that guests can buy what the farm offers. In the case of Nthenya's farm, it could be vegetables and some animal byproducts.

Beverage tea and coffee that constitute the largest export commodities from the east African nation were singled out by KTB as holding a promising future in unlocking agro-tourism.

The country has a great deal of coffee and tea plantation farms spread across its 47 counties.

The spectacle is expected to bring good fortune to the tourism industry which has been severely hit by the pandemic. "I'm optimistic about the future of agro-tourism. People need to get close to nature and know more about our agriculture," said Nthenya.

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