Ecological tourism to organic farms


The mission of the European Centre for Ecological Agriculture and Tourism-Poland (ECEAT-Poland) is to use ecological tourism to organic farms as a tool to help small farmers make a sometimes difficult transition from conventional agriculture to ecological agriculture. In this way the farmers benefit financially while environmentally sound practices are spread, and the natural landscape, biodiversity and local culture and traditions are protected and shared with visitors. By working in a cooperative and ecological way small Polish farmers will be able to protect their livelihoods and their traditional way of life in a coming period of difficult economic and social transformation.


Various communities, Poland

Problem Overview:

Small farms, rural way of life threatened

More than a million small Polish farms (less than 7 hectares) are threatened by the coming entry of Poland to the European Union, which favors large conventional farms and methods which are harmful to health and the environment, the traditional landscape and biodiversity, and which would uproot small farmers and create further unemployment, migration to unhealthy, overcrowded cities, and destruction of the rural culture and way of life.


The mission of the European Centre for Ecological Agriculture and Tourism-Poland (ECEAT-Poland) is to use ecological tourism to organic farms as a tool to help small farmers make a sometimes difficult transition from conventional agriculture to ecological agriculture. In this way the farmers benefit financially while environmentally sound practices are spread, and the natural landscape, biodiversity and local culture and traditions are protected and shared with visitors. By working in a cooperative and ecological way small Polish farmers will be able to protect their livelihoods and their traditional way of life in a coming period of difficult economic and social transformation.

[ECEAT-Poland was co-founded by Jadwiga Lopata, who is an Ashoka Fellow. Ashoka: Innovators for the Public is a non-profit international organization supporting social entrepreneurs from developing countries who have innovative plans for positive social change.]

As Ashoka relates:

"Lopata is charting the way to the alternative destination: revitalized rural livelihoods. Her strategy is to demonstrate to Poland’s small farmers and the Polish government that Poland need not repeat the Western experience with unsustainable large-scale agribusiness, a ‘sunset industry.’ Instead, she argues, Poland has a unique opportunity to become a world leader in the ‘sunrise industry’ of organic farming. Like agribusiness, eco-farming has a series of corollary economic activities. These relate to the cottage eco-tourism industry. Unlike agribusiness and its spin-offs, eco-farming and eco-tourism are broadly-based and overwhelmingly positive for society and the environment.

I grew up on a small farm. Later I went to Krakow (a big city) for several years of study. On each return visit to the countryside I observed that many valuable features of countryside life are being lost. In 1991 I participated in the international ecological camp Ecotopia in the Hungarian countryside. I observed the same situation there. So I started to think how to help small farms without big investments (small farmers don't have much money to invest). The biggest difficulty for farmers was to sell their products. The best solution in this situation is to bring people to the farms who will buy the food as well as benefit from the countryside environment and culture. Fortunately I met a Dutch ecologist who was also very enthusiastic about these ideas. We started to develop a project. I went to the Netherlands where I met other ecologists. Finally we made a project description for three countries--Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. For this project we were funded by the European Union. Later, my colleagues in the Netherlands established a foundation European Centre for Eco-Agro Tourism (ECEAT). After two and a half years working in ecology in the Netherlands (during which time I visited Poland several times to introduce my project) I returned to Poland to establish and run an association European Centre for Ecological Agriculture and Tourism--Poland (ECEAT-Poland).

After two years of help from the European Union for running variations of the project to reach different groups such as farmers, students, teachers, and other citizens, I received further support for continuing and developing the work, from different foundations such and the Regional Environmental Centre in Budapest and in Warsaw, the Environmental Partnership for Central Europe and local governments. I also developed good contacts and cooperation with other ecological organisations.

"There are three main components to Lopata’s implementation plan:

1. One involves preparing farmers to shift to organic farming and to cater to eco-tourists.
2. Another involves marketing Polish eco-tourism internationally.
3. And the third involves developing further economic activities from the base in eco-farming and eco-tourism. Lopata consolidates these subsidiary activities under the rubric of eco-villages."

Organic farming is healthier for people, for the environment and for social welfare, but to make the transition from conventional farming to ecological farming normally requires a period where farm income may be substantially reduced, since certification for organic farm production generally requires at least two to three years non-use of artificial pesticides and fertilizers on the farm. Income from crops during this time of transition can be significantly less than previously. However, in Poland, due to poverty, most small farmers already use relatively little chemical pesticides and fertilizers, so a transition to purely ecological agriculture is not in fact so physically difficult. It mainly requires education of the farmers in the ecological approach and in some practical techniques of ecological agriculture. And there is a growing market for ecological farm products.

So for farmers who wish to convert to organic production, ecological tourism provides them additional income during and after this transition process to help motivate them to make the transition to ecological farming as well as make the transition possible for them. Ecological tourism also educates tourists about ecological foods and farming, and provides an additional market for the farmer's products, in addition to the income from providing tourist accommodations.

As Ashoka reports, "In 1998, Lopata launched her Eco-Village program with a pilot effort in the southern village of Stryszow. At that time, Stryszow had 3,000 inhabitants and 500 farms, and was chosen because of the mountainous terrain and small size of the farms. Groups of ecologists from the Institute for Applied Ecology in Krakow provided technical support to the initial group of twenty farmers who were meeting monthly to explore the possibilities. Lopata noted that eco-tourism is a natural tool for local authorities. Having convinced the Stryszow authorities of the potential, Lopata received a small grant to ‘promote local tourism'. She built on this beginning."

The constraining factors are:

a. Farmers' lack of knowledge of ecological agriculture coupled with current use of ecologically unsound practices.
b. Psychological and language barriers of the farmers to bringing in tourists.
c. Farmers' preconceptions of what standard of facilities are necessary for tourism to their farms.
d. Generating a sufficient flow of tourists to the farms in the project.
e. Lack of a sufficient market for the ecological products of the farmers.
f. Lack of governmental support for ecological agriculture in general.

These constraining factors are addressed in the project training sessions, through practical examples of organic farms with ecological tourism, and by activism of ECEAT-Poland in the tourism and social fields.

How the project operates:

a. First small farms are identified whose farmers are interested in the idea of ecological farming and ecological tourism

b. The farms are visited and the farmers are advised about participating in the project and about its advantages.

c. Formal training sessions are held for small groups of interested farmers with two to three training sessions over a period of one year. The goal of these training sessions is to persuade the farmers to become ecological and to participate in the ecotourism project as a means to help this transition. Two to three trainers work in one-day training sessions to provide practical information on ecological agriculture, ecological tourism to farms, the growing market for ecological products, general ecological awareness, and the necessity of cooperation among farmers to achieve a successful transition to ecological farming. Once a farm meets Ecoland (an internationally recognized certification process for organic goods) standards for at least half of its products, it may participate in the tourism program. Ecoland alerts ECEAT-Poland immediately if one of their participating farmers falls below the threshold.

d. Descriptions of participating farms and their surroundings and local tourist attractions are prepared and published annually in an ecological tourism brochure in the local language as well as other languages with the cooperation of the international ECEAT network. The brochure provides information about the project’s ideas and goals, directions to the farms, information about the farms and farmers, food and accommodation availability and prices, descriptions of the surroundings, tourist activities and attractions. The brochures are distributed to interested persons. The farms are publicly marked by placards as ECEAT farms so that tourists can identify them easily.

e. A promotional campaign emphasizing the social, ecological and economic goals of the project is conducted using press conferences, radio and television interviews, newspaper and magazine advertisements, and articles. Further promotion is accomplished through tourist fairs and distribution of leaflets and brochures in shops and public places. These dissemination efforts spread awareness of ecological tourism to organic farms and attract visitors to the farms.

f. Visitors register as ECEAT farm guests, and a financial record of ECEAT tourists is kept by the farmers. Farmers donate 10% of their ECEAT tourist earnings to ECEAT-Poland to help pay for publication and distribution of the brochure for the project. ECEAT brought over its first 400 tourists from Western Europe to fourteen Polish eco-farms in 1993. In 1996, the movement accommodated 1,200 tourists on 59 farms. We didn't do a survey for 1997 visitors, but we know that many visitors came for a return visit, and 75% of our farms have remained in our project. In 1997, due to widespread flooding in July in Poland , we lost about 70% of the expected visitors, and had about 800 visitors. In 1998 we had more than 3000 visitors.

Some of the farmers in our project are running eco-education summer camps.

"A typical holiday involves walking in the mountains and countryside, riding horses and swimming in ponds and lakes, often with farmers’ and tourists’ children going off together. Tourists often participate in farm life, including taking on farm chores such as harvesting fruit, milking cows and making cheese, butter and jam. Collecting herbs, berries and mushrooms is very popular, as is baking bread."

There is progress in economic cooperation among the farmers, for example, participation in organized walking tours to several ECEAT-Poland farms, in cooperation with a professional tourist office.

g. ECEAT-Poland publications and videos give more information about ecological tourism, ecological awareness and ecological cooperation to the farmers in the project, as well as to the public.

The primary beneficiaries are small farmers in Poland with farms around 7 hectares or less (there are more than a million such farms in Poland). Secondary beneficiaries are the tourists from Poland and abroad (mostly Dutch and German) who visit the farms and benefit from the organic food, the healthy surroundings and the culture of the countryside. Other beneficiaries are the people who buy organic foods from these farms through shops or other outlets. And the country as a whole benefits from the protection of the environment and the cultural values of the countryside.

Ashoka describes Jadwiga Lopata’s background as one preparing her well for this endeavor:

"Lopata was born in a small village and lived there until she was eighteen, inheriting the values associated with simple village life, such as helping neighbors and loving nature. In grade school she and a group of friends responded to the poverty they saw around them by crafting clothes, bags, clasps, and the like from natural materials. In high school, she founded a tutoring group helping others in varied subjects, especially mathematics. The true course of her life was set when she had to resign from her post-university job in computing due to the effects that the computer was having on her eyesight. This experience caused her to begin an ongoing reflection about personal health and the way in which we organize our economies and societies. An interim period spent starting up and running a children’s clothes production business confirmed her business management and entrepreneurial skills. The experience of starting a successful small business provided Lopata with the confidence to follow her inclination to initiate support programs for family farmers.

Lopata has long prepared for this project initiation by creating mechanisms to advertise and market eco-tourism. In the late 1980’s and early 1990s, when she studied the emerging "nature tourism" industry, which was principally oriented toward wilderness and wildlife activities, she became convinced that there was a market for a new variation that involved immersion in Poland’s small farm lifestyle — healthy, relaxed, picturesque. She relocated to Holland for two years to improve her language skills (she speaks English and Polish) and to work directly in the nature tourism industry. While there she co-founded the European Centre for Eco-Agro Tourism, with headquarters in Amsterdam, to promote eco-tourism. "


The project has grown nicely and become established in Poland during its seven-year existence, with many participating farms, and is being increasingly recognized by ecological organizations, the public, local governments and private industry as a practical means to help farmers convert to ecological agriculture. Conversion to ecological agriculture through ecological tourism to farms, is proving to be an environmentally and economically sound solution for farmers and society, particularly in, though not limited to, ecologically protected areas such as those near national parks and landscape parks. The ECEAT programme, which started in Poland, has now been replicated, with local variations, in 21 other countries of Europe, assisted by the center in Amsterdam.

Recent accomplishments:

In 1998, the ECEAT-Poland project was extended to the Karkanosze Nature Reserve protected area, where 27 farmers are participating.

Most recently we have been concentrating on developing the project in the Stryszow region, near Cracow, where we have started a monthly local newspaper as well as English-lnaguage classes for the children of local farmers. We have also received a two-year grant from the European Commission Phare Partnership Programme to help develop the project in the Stryszow region in cooperation with two Dutch partner organizations.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature is also cooperating with ECEAT-Poland to develop ecological tourist accommodations guidelines for visitors to the Bialawieza National Forest. I am cooperating with WWF (and its regional coordinator Zoltan Kun from the Budapest WWF office) to help protect the Bialawieza National Forest, where WWF has initiated its PAN Park project. My role in the project is to introduce organic agriculture and ecological tourism to nearby farms and to develop ecological criteria for the accomodations.

ECEAT-Poland is a co-founder of the recently established:
(Feb. '98) Malopolska Union for Organic Agriculture (covering one-fifth of Poland), and
(May '98) the National Coalition for Organic Agriculture.

Today there are 23 European countries in the ECEAT network, and so far the idea has spread to Michigan in the U.S.A.
I am in the process of organizing cooperation between city people and ECEAT-Poland farms.

Related Case Study (Kids site): Ecotourism in Poland

Web Links:



Web pages

Ashoka (Jadwiga Lopata)
Ashoka Changemakers article about Jadwiga's work
Sunflower Farm Ecological Technology Center


A guide to the participating farms, Eco-tourism — Vacations with Eco-farmers is available in Polish, English, Dutch and German, co-authored by Lopata. In can be ordered on the following web site:

A Guide: Developing Ecological Awareness (in Polish)

Eco-cooperatives: a New Movement for Cooperation (in Polish)


Holiday on an Organic Farm available in English

Ecological Tourism on Organic Farms available in Polish.

Brochure (two parts) plus Video:

Life in the Countryside is Healthy and Interesting

Lopata wrote many published articles, and many journalists have also published articles on their activities.

Interested persons can write or e-mail to the ECEAT-Poland office requesting brochures and making payment to the ECEAT-Poland bank account:

ECEAT-Poland, Bank Przemyslowo-Handlowy S.A. o/Wadowice, Ul. Lwowska 9 34-100 Wadowice Poland
Account number: 10601145-320000019568


ICPPC - International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside,
Miedzynarodowa Koalicja dla Ochrony Polskiej Wsi
34-146 Stryszów 156, Poland tel./fax +48 33 8797114

European Centre for Ecological and Agricultural Tourism-Poland

Submitted by:

Jadwiga Lopata
European Centre for Ecological and Agricultural Tourism-Poland
Telephone/Fax: 48-33-797114




Information Date: 1998-07-01  Update Addresses May 4, 2005

See article posted on the Horizon Solutions Site April 7,2005: "Half of Poland Declares Itself GMO Free Zone"

Information Source: Jadwiga Lopata; Ashoka

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