How Tourists Can Support Sustainable Agriculture around the Mekong Region

Photo by Shanice Garcia on Unsplash

Agriculture has been a double-edged sword for the Greater Mekong Sub-Region: while it provides an ample source of nutrition and business for GMS countries, it also places undue pressure on the environment.

FAO study found that global agrifood systems generated some 17 billion carbon dioxide equivalent tonnes into the atmosphere; given current trends, agricultural production will soon demand more than our land and water resources can provide.

It would be easy to conclude that tourism, as a major stressor on the regional environment, should be seen as part of the problem, and not as a solution. Too easy, and unfortunately counterproductive: choosing local agriculture over the tourism sector would also mean forgoing the travel industry’s billions in revenue, hurting average GMS residents more than they would be helped.

Tourism and sustainable agriculture can, and do, go hand-in-hand. There are two general ways where tourists can participate in building sustainability in this sector:

Patronise businesses that promote sustainable agriculture and its products. A growing awareness of organic agriculture has led to the growing demand for its products: organic food, fair trade coffee, and bamboo products.

Local activists like Thailand’s Arrut Navaraj, founder of the Thai Organic Consumer Association (TOCA) and key proponent of the Sampran Model of organic trade, are helping to increase awareness of organic farming in Thailand, and its benefits for tourists and tourism stakeholders alike.

Farmers on one hand; hotels, resorts and restaurants on the other; are brought together by TOCA for each other’s mutual benefit. Farmers are taught organic methods and provided international certification; tourism stakeholders get access to the farmers’ organic produce at reasonable rates..

With TOCA’s digital platform, tourists in Phuket and Chiang Mai can get in on the act as well. “When tourists come to visit [TOCA-listed] hotels and restaurants, they know that they’re going to eat menus using organic food, and they can actually visit the farmers as well,” Arrut explains.

Visit agrotourism destinations to see or help. Tourists can now see sustainable farming practices up close, by visiting farms that offer tours and educational programs.

Visiting a farm is a great way to learn about sustainable farming practices and to support farmers directly. These farms often use tourism revenues to support other sustainable agriculture efforts, like farmer training and development of farm infrastructure.

In Viet Nam’s Mekong Delta, Can Tho City has developed three models of agricultural tourism that cover agrotourism for day tours; agro tourism for guests staying over; and resorts associated with agricultural activities. Viet Nam authorities project that agrotourism can help increase local incomes by 30-40%, compared to traditional tourism.

In Lao PDR, the Phutawen Farm agrotourism destination has only recently reopened as of December 2022. The 20-hectare farm offers a homestay experience, a flower garden, and the experience of picking and buying fresh vegetables like cucumbers and tomatoes.

This was originally posted on the Mekong Tourism website.

Last Updated: 30 June 2023