Bruno Mojica, director of agritourism for the Ministry of Agricultural Development (MIDA), expressed that the increase in this activity is due to the fact that Panama has become one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the region.
This new approach to farming has generated additional income for farmers, allowing them to maintain their land, and has also created new jobs in rural areas.
This project began in 2007, and the first certification was given in the first trimester of 2008.
While there aren't any precise numbers to evaluate the performance of these agritourism farms, Mojica assures that the project has been successful and they are seeing "the benefits of many farms receiving more revenue."
The first performance evaluation of the activity, in terms of receiving tourists and revenues, is programmed for next year.
MIDA awards the first certification, and the beneficiaries must then wait for approval by the ATP, with an emphasis on customer service, infrastructure and the farm's adaptation for tourism.
"We make the agricultural rules and the ATP makes the tourism rules," said the official.
In order to be certified, farmers must demonstrate that they are successfully doing some agricultural activity, under good environmental stewardship.
West Panama, Chiriquí, Coclé and Veraguas are regions with greatest development of agritourism farms, and some already receive over $5,000 per month in revenue.
The tourists are offered varied activities, ranging from participating in farm chores, practicing extreme sports, observing biodiversity and attending cultural, folk and craft events, to going fishing or making cheese, honey, raw sugar, jams or other agricultural products.
Farms that grow exotic fruit and those that raise cattle or small livestock like goats, sheep, pigs or birds are the ones that generate the highest demand.
"Tourists want to get away from environments covered with cement and filled with toxic elements, and go somewhere they can breathe clean air and participate in the daily activities of the peasants," Mojica pointed out.
The owners of these farms also have access to a $4 million trust fund, managed by the MIDA, and it has been proposed to include this activity in the benefits granted by Law 25 on Agricultural Transformation, which gives nonrefundable funds.
Farms now awaiting inspection by the ATP could begin their operation by mid next year.
The evaluation process goes faster with MIDA because they have more staff on hand. Small farms take the longest because they have less economic resources and fulfill the requirements gradually, upon having funds available.
Already established agritourism farms have gotten organized and created the Rural Agritourism Cooperative (Coosmatur) to gain training and larger funding sources.
Humberto López Tirone, the president of this entity, states that this business has great potential and benefits the rural areas.
Last year about 20 farm owners traveled to Costa Rica, financed by the ATP, to visit several projects dedicated to rural tourism.
This country has vast experience with this topic, and rural tourism is one of the five tourism products they offer. In 2010, this segment attracted some 80,000 visitors and currently maintains a 6% growth.
Manuel Luna G.