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Farming out: Pune’s tillers reach out to tourists

The picturesque Maval taluka in Pune district is a popular tourist destination, famous for its dams, caves, forts and its awe-inspiring mountains. A group of 25 farmers from the taluka have joined hands to set up weekend getaways for tourists.

, ET Bureau|
Oct 29, 2008, 04.04 AM IST
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PUNE: The picturesque Maval taluka in Pune district is a popular tourist destination, famous for its dams, caves, forts and its awe-inspiring mountains. A group of 25 farmers from the taluka have joined hands to set up weekend getaways for tourists.

Pooling around 100 acres of their land, the farmers have formed the Maval Agri-Tourism Development Co-operative Society with the intention of promoting agritourism. The Pune District Cooperative Bank will provide loans to these farmers to help them upgrade facilities at their farms.

Agritourism involves visiting a working farm, or any agricultural, horticultural or agribusiness operation, for the purpose of enjoyment, education, or involvement in the activities of the farm. The host farmers also double up as guides.

Maval taluka has been an attraction in recent times with many actors and industrialists making a beeline to buy land there. Superstar Amitabh Bachchan���s controversial 22-acre plot is located here while yesteryear hero
Dharmendra owns a farmhouse.

���Lots of tourists visit the dams, caves and forts in the Maval taluka. Lonavala and Khandala are also a major attraction. Most tourists are unaware about the specialties of our area and keep roaming without any direction. We want to attract them to our farms, which will help also us generate additional income,��� Vijay Kalekar, sarpanch of the Kale Colony village, the headquarters of the farmers��� society, said.

One of our members also operates a boating club in the backwaters of the Pavana dam, he said. ���We want to introduce tourists to activities like floriculture, harvesting, bee-keeping, sericulture and dairy.���

The Kale Colony gram panchayat would be the entry point for tourists, who would be received by farmers and escorted to their farms. ���Some farmers have residential arrangements on their farms, while the others are upgrading their premises,��� Mr Kalekar said.

The activities are based on the model devised by the Agri Tourism Development Corporation (ATDC), a private, Pune-based body set up by entrepreneur Pandurang Taware in 2005. ATDC is promoted by Baramati-based Rajendra Pawar, nephew of agriculture minister Sharad Pawar.

Mr Taware, who operates agritourism projects in 52 locations, providing expertise, said, ���Many unemployed farmers in Maval taluka were cheated of their lands as they sold at throwaway rates. Later, they worked as watchmen and domestic help on the same land.

Agritourism will help them generate jobs. We are aware of parties happening in places like Lonavala, Khandala and Pavananagar in Maval taluka. We are targeting tourists who want to spend a weekend on the farms.���

Apart from being acquainted with agricultural operations like sowing and harvesting, tourists also get a chance to savour authentic ethnic food, handicrafts, dress, culture, music and language. Rural activities, such as bullock-cart rides, milking and picking farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, are some of the other highlights.

Agritourism is a growing activity as people are increasingly choosing rural areas for leisure trips, Mr Taware said. ���ATDC started with a pilot project in Baramati in 2005. We received 6,000 tourists during the first year of our operations. Our turnover was then Rs 2 lakh. We now operate in 52 locations across the state and look to close this financial year at Rs 50 lakh,��� Mr Taware said.
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