Electronic Journal of Polish Agricultural Universities (EJPAU) founded by all Polish Agriculture Universities presents original papers and review articles relevant to all aspects of agricultural sciences. It is target for persons working both in science and industry,regulatory agencies or teaching in agricultural sector. Covered by IFIS Publishing (Food Science and Technology Abstracts), ELSEVIER Science - Food Science and Technology Program, CAS USA (Chemical Abstracts), CABI Publishing UK and ALPSP (Association of Learned and Professional Society Publisher - full membership). Presented in the Master List of Thomson ISI.
Volume 9
Issue 4
Available Online: http://www.ejpau.media.pl/volume9/issue4/art-02.html


Izabella Sikorska-Wolak
Department of Human Sciences, Warsaw Agricultural University, Poland



Agritourism has taken an important role in the policy of multifunctional and sustainable rural development which has been launched in Poland for more than ten years now. It is supported by numerous economic and non-economic advantages resulting from rural tourism development, such as: generating new jobs, improving the income situation of farm families and other inhabitants, enhancing entrepreneurial attitudes, and developing rural infrastructure. Tourism development in rural areas may add to solving, or at least lessening many problems faced by rural areas and individual farmers.

Possibilities to develop rural/ agritourism are considerable because of outstanding natural and cultural qualities of rural Poland as well as constantly increasing interest of city dwellers in this form of recreation and holiday making. A survey carried out in the Section for Cultural Heritage and Tourism, at Warsaw Agricultural University, and in other research centres indicate, that these possibilities have not been fully developed. It is necessary to increase promotion, educational, advisory, and promotion measures, as well as financial support for farmers and other rural inhabitants establishing businesses in the field of agritourism in order to develop these resources.

Key words: tourism, rural areas, strategic documents.


Rural tourism as a way to spend holidays and leisure time, organized by farmers and other inhabitants of rural areas, has become more and more popular in Poland, like in other European countries. In contrast to mass tourism, rural tourism gives city dwellers an opportunity to experience attractive, healthy and relatively cheap rest in a natural environment, far from crowds, noise, and pollution. It enables them to meet the rural population and to get to know their living style and living conditions, as well as working conditions and cultural riches of the village.

Most of all, it is a chance for the village and for many farms to develop, still keeping their identity, integrity, and values steaming from rural culture and tradition and at the same time open themselves up to outside contacts. Agritourism makes local society more active and more entrepreneurial. It increases the income level of the rural population, enhances employment opportunities, and positively influences rural infrastructure. These changes are favourable not only for tourists, but also for local rural economies.

This elaboration is based on both primary and secondary research material. The analysis was based on: available scientific publications, domestic and regional statistics, government documents (strategies), and results of the author’s survey carried out in the Department of Humanities, at Warsaw Agricultural University, Poland.


Rural areas make up 93.4 per cent of Poland compared to 90 percent in other European Union countries <footnote 1>. Inhabitants of rural areas in Poland number 14.785 million people, which constitutes 38.3 per cent of the population. In the European Union more than one half of the population (57 per cent) lives in rural areas. The share of rural population in Poland differs from region to region – the lowest is 20.7 per cent in śląskie voivodship and the highest is 59.1 per cent in podkarpackie voivodship. Traditional farm families usually consist of several generations. Households consisting of five or more members make up to 29.7 per cent of all rural households, while in the city they make up only 12.2 per cent of households.

The main problems connected with rural development in Poland are presented below. These problems also are typical for the majority of Central and Eastern Europe countries, which have been in transition since the beginning of the 1990s. Among these problems are:

Educational attainment of the rural population, despite significant improvement over the last decade, is still much lower than that of city dwellers. A stable increase in share of secondary school graduates (from 39 per cent in 1988 up to 56 per cent in 2002) and higher education graduates (from nearly 2 per cent up to 4.3 per cent) is certainly a positive trend. Increases in educational aspirations of rural young persons should also be taken into account.

According to a survey on economic activity of the Polish population, 2.7 million people (19 per cent of the working population) worked in farming, hunting and forestry in 2001. This percentage is much higher than in other EU countries where it equals 4.5 per cent on average. Those employed in Polish farming make up 25 per cent of all of the persons employed in farming in the enlarged EU [4]. The share of women working on farms is also much higher in Poland than in the EU. It should be stressed that with generally high levels of employment in farming, which in some regions reaches almost 40 per cent (lubelskie, podlaskie and świętokrzyskie voivodships), there are also regions suffering from the lack of successors in many villages with the result of depopulation in rural areas. In 2002 farming produced 3.7 per cent of the value of national global production and 2.3 per cent of national gross product.

Registered and non-registered unemployment as well as limited possibilities to find a job lead to serious problems in rural areas. According to Strategy for Rural Areas and Farming Development in 2007-2013 (with elements of forecasting until 2020), rural unemployment (both registered and non-registered) is estimated to be as high as 1.6 million people. Taking into account the scale of this phenomenon, solving the problem of unemployment by facilitating access to labour markets and generating off-farm jobs in rural areas is one of the most important challenges for economic policy.

Unfavourable area structure of farms is another problem. According to statistical data for Poland in 2002 there were 1,956.1 thousand farms which had more than one hectare of arable land. Polish agriculture is dominated (58.8 per cent) by small farms, of one to five hectare of arable land. The average area of a farm (9.6 ha) is significantly different in various regions. The smallest farms can be observed in southern voivodships (małopolskie – 3.2 ha, podkarpackie – 3.5 ha), while the largest farms are found in the northern part of the country (warmińsko-mazurskie – 17.1 ha, zachodniopomorskie – 16.2 ha). Most individual farms have their lands shaped in so called ‘chess boards’ and 20 per cent of farmers have six or more fields (in some cases the distance from separate pieces of land to the farm settlement is longer than 10 km). The biggest break-up of farm land is in the south-east voivodships. All this makes developing and modernizing agricultural production more difficult, and has a negative effect on income level of farm families. This unfavourable agrarian structure restrains the number of commodity farms. Data of the Agricultural Census show that in 2002, in Poland 17.1 per cent of the farms did not produce temporarily or constantly; 10.6 per cent produced only to meet their own needs, 25.5 per cent produced mainly to meet their own needs and sold the surplus in the market, and only 46.8 per cent produced mainly for the market.

Problems of Poland’s rural development, discussed above, indicate that there is considerable need to widen non-agricultural functions of rural areas and to respect rules of sustainable development. Sustainable development is connected to the idea of multifunctionality, i.e. creating conditions to establish various economic activities which are run with observance of environmental protection regulations, development of social and cultural functions, and concern to provide the inhabitants with proper living standards.


Associating a village solely with farming is out-of-date today. Although economic activity from farming still dominates in rural areas of most regions, farms have become more and more multifunctional. Farmers, members of their families, and inhabitants of rural areas have taken off-farm jobs, and city-dwellers investing their capital in production, service, education and commercial companies have added to multifunctionality. Advancement of this process differs in different areas of Poland.

Diversification of farms based on the use of the farms’ own resources may be an important way to develop professional activity and to create an additional source of income for a significant part of the rural population. According to the Agricultural Census, in 2002 in Poland 12.4 per cent of farms ran a non-agricultural business (in 1996 they constituted 8.1 per cent), most of them were situated in zachodniopomorskie, pomorskie and dolnośląskie voivodships, the fewest in podlaskie, lubelskie and podkarpackie. Most businesses are run in the field of trade, food and farm product processing, construction, and transportation. Because of limited accessibility to finances, non-agricultural economic activity of the rural population is still poorly developed. However, more possibilities of financial support from national and foreign sources, including EU funds, appeared within recent years. Among many factors which make development of non-agricultural activities difficult are the following: poor educational attainment of the rural population; underdevelopment of economic, institutional and social infrastructure; and dispersed settlement patterns resulting in limited local demand for goods and services.

Providing tourism services, and especially agritourism services, may be the business that will become a significant source of income in rural areas as these kinds of activities are not limited by local demand. Total demand for rural tourism including agritourism and ecotourism has clearly tended to increase over recent years. Possibilities to develop tourism in local areas are considerable, favoured by:

City-dwellers are more and more interested in alternative tourism, in getting to know the way of living and working in the village, which is conducive to agritourism development. Peace and quiet; family atmosphere; possibilities for exciting sightseeing and visiting historic structures, both secular and sacred; and participation in folklore events and presentations of folk art, traditions and customs typical of a Polish village are the features that attract more and more domestic and foreign tourists.

Statistics for tourism development in Poland, elaborated by UKFiT (Office for Physical Training and Tourism) in 1994, show that 46 per cent of the country (145 square km) has tourism and holiday qualities, and one-third of communes have abilities to develop tourism. M. Drzewiecki [1] indicates that possibilities to develop tourism are even better. According to his elaboration, 1368 communes that have 206 square km of total area meet the criteria for a rural recreational area, such as: clean air, silence, aesthetic qualities of landscape, terrain good for walking and cycling, and unpolluted waters good for bathing. In this group, there are communes that have been known and visited by tourists for many years (mountain region, seaside, Mazury Lake District), and sites that are still waiting to be discovered by tourists. Especially the latter ones may benefit from tourism development. According to survey results from the Section for Cultural Heritage and Tourism, in the Department for Humanities at Warsaw Agricultural University as well as in other scientific centres, these possibilities are not sufficiently utilized despite dynamic development in recent years.

Rural tourism may play a particularly significant role in the areas of unfavourable farming conditions (ONW), where agricultural production is difficult because of poor soil, natural conditions (low-lands), and terrain (mountains). ONW contains 52 per cent of the arable lands in Poland. There is a large quantity of unused lands (uncultivated and follow lands) in those areas. The share of population working on farms situated in ONW is several times higher than in other regions [6].

A large part of ONW area is taken up by 69 separated priority zones. These areas have to solve some environmental problems and they need to take protective conservation actions. These areas take a high ranking position in the domestic and international system of protected areas (status of a national or a landscape park, suggested mainstay of NATURE 2000 network). These areas are characterised by domination of typical agricultural landscapes which differ by farm size and mosaics of arable lands. One of the outcomes expected from the development of separate priority zones was to take action to prevent specialisation and intensification of agricultural production. These zones are included in the Agri-Environmental Programme, which assumes developing sustainable ecological farming, keeping extensive meadows and pastures, protecting waters, and conserving soil. The zones make up 32.8 per cent of the country and are situated in 812 rural and urban-rural communes [6]. Location of these communes by region is shown in the table below.

Table 1. Rural and urban-rural communes in priority zones and problematic communes (by region)


Number of communes

Share of communes in priority zones

Share of problematic communes





































































Source: Author’s elaboration based on [5, 6]

These areas are very attractive for tourists. Thus, local authorities should aim at preserving the natural character of these communes and at protecting the natural environment on one hand, and attracting visitors and tourists on the other hand. However, the kind of tourism and its intensity must be considered in order to realize the above discussed target. These areas are predestined to develop alternative ‘environmentally friendly’ tourism, which is predominately agritourism and ecotourism. Tourism must be of a sustainable character itself if it is to become an essential element of multifunctional and sustainable development of rural areas.


Holidaymaking in the country is nothing new in Poland. The Genesis of agritourism can be found in rich traditions of rural holiday making, dating from the first half of the 19th century. Holiday making in the country was treated by wealthy city-dwellers as a demand of their social status at the beginning. After some time, it became more popular among a new category of tourists – city intelligence class, who used to leave for the country in order to take rest and enjoy holidays staying with farmers. At the beginning of the 1990s, this phenomenon evolved into a new organized form – agritourism.

We may define three stages in the process of developing agritourism in Poland:

Stage 1 – typical for the beginning of the 1990s – renting simple dwelling rooms of low accommodation standard;

Stage 2 – improving accommodation and sanitary standards up to so called ‘standard category’ (rarely higher standards) and developing additional facilities; this stage began at the beginning of the 1990s and in most regions was over in 2003-2005, when an economic boom took place in Poland;

Stage 3 – observed locally from 2003 (was appearing incidentally much earlier) – widening quality of holidaymaking offered on existing agritourist farms, as well as a dynamic increase in the number of new farms of this kind. This stage may be called the stage of specialisation. At this same time there was a significant increase in the number of eco-tourism farms. A dynamic increase in the number of agritourist farms could be observed as long ago as in the 1990s. It is, however, difficult to define because of significant differences in data from institutions such as: the Central Statistical Office, Tourism Institute, agritourism associations, commune offices, and agricultural advisory centres. According to data from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, one thousand farms provided agritourism services in cooperation with agricultural advisory centres in 1993. In 1999, more than ten thousand rural households were providing tourism services, of which 35 per cent were agritourism services (Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Development estimates). Similar data was disseminated by agricultural advisory centres. After 1999, Poland witnessed dynamic growth in the number of agritourist farms and number of beds. This rapid increase in the number of offers was an example of active adjustment of farm families to uncertainty conditions and low income from farming. In 2000, Poland had 4.8 thousand agritourism farms with more than forty thousand accommodations, while in 2002 agritourism services were provided by 5.6 thousand accommodation providers offering 6.5 thousand accommodation buildings and 53 thousand beds [3]. Thus, on average, one accommodation building contained about eight beds.

If we regard agritourism as a relevant feature of farm sustainability, then the financial advantage resulting from providing small scale services is a desired phenomenon. It assures tourists better holiday making conditions, as service providers combine agritourism with other forms of economic activity.

Table 2. Agritourist farms, 1998 – 2004, by voivodship





Poland total

























































lack of data











*incomplete data; Source: author’s elaboration based on data from agricultural advisory centres [see: 7, 8]

The number of agritourism farms and the dynamics of their increase differ by region. Most agritourism farms are located in voivodships which are most attractive for tourists because of their natural and landscape qualities. These are: małopolskie, warmińsko-mazurskie, podlaskie, pomorskie and podkarpackie voivodships. The highest increase dynamics in the number of agritourism farms in 1998-2002 was observed in świętokrzyskie voivodship (fourfold increase) and in podkarpackie voivodship (double increase). Voivodships with the fewest agritourism farms are opolskie and kujawsko-pomorskie, where the increase dynamics are the lowest as well. With respect of the number of accommodations małopolskie, warmińsko-mazurskie, pomorskie and podlaskie voivodships are the leaders [3].

In 2004, the number of agritourism farms increased to 8.2 thousand, including 214 farms specialising in ecotourism. These farms have 89.5 thousand accommodations in all, including 1.9 thousand accommodations on eco-farms. Małopolskie, which has the longest tourism traditions, witnessed the biggest (nearly double) increase in the number of farms and the number of accommodations, when compared to data of 2002 [2].

Although the number of agritourism farms in Poland increased significantly over the past 15 years, comparison to other West European countries indicates that the development potential was not fully realized. For instance, there were 49.7 thousand agritourist farms in Italy, 36.5 thousand in Great Britain, 32 thousand in France, 22.2 thousand in Austria and 21.2 thousand in Germany [11], as long ago as in the 1990’s.


Development of rural tourism/agritourism is determined by many factors. Generally they can be divided into two groups: endogenous factors and exogenous factors. The first group is connected with attitudes and widely defined competencies of people providing agritourism services (farmers and their families), the economic situation of farmers, and material resources of farms and households. The exogenous factors include social and economic conditions of farming and of rural areas, natural and cultural qualities of the region, and institutional support for farmers developing agritourism businesses. This support is provided by institutions promoting agritourism in rural areas and by educational and advisory institutions. Exogenous factors also include those connected with generating demand for agritourism services.

Although development of rural tourism/agritourism takes place on a local and regional scale, it would be impossible without assistance from central government institutions which are responsible for policies of rural development, regional development, and tourism development in Poland. Most important is the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. It supports rural tourism/agritourism giving it a relevant rank in government strategic documents, thus creating possibilities for receiving financial support from public funds and EU funds.

In Sectoral Operational Programme Restructuring and Modernisation of the Food Sector and Rural Development elaborated for years 2004-2006 and realized within the National Development Plan, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development set the following directions of rural development:

* generating additional sources of income in agricultural holdings and generating off-farm employment;
* preserving traditional forms of spatial management and natural qualities;
* developing agritourism.

Although developing agritourism was defined as one of the main directions of rural development in Poland, two other directions are also closely connected with rural development. This is so, because agritourism, is a way to diversify farm holdings, provide an additional source of income for farm families, and employ unused or under utilized labor. Use of natural and cultural resources helps to protect them at the same time.

Among other operational programmes aimed directly or indirectly at solving rural development problems are SOP Supporting Enterprise Competitiveness and SOP Development of Human Resources, and Integrated Operational Programme for Regional Development.

In future years, policy for rural development assumes even stronger support for activities aimed at economic diversification for the rural and farm population. And so the Strategy of Rural Development and Agriculture Development for 2007-2013 assumes:

within Aim I – Support for sustainable rural development

Priority 1.1. Diversification of activities to generate alternative sources of income

Measure 1.1.2 – Development and popularisation of rural tourism referring to local traditions and specificity.

Other priorities important in the aspect of agritourism development are:

Priority 1.2. Preservation of natural and cultural qualities of rural areas

Priority 1.3. Activation of rural population and improvement of social infrastructure

Priority 1.4. Development of technical infrastructure.

Within the first three years after accessing to the EU, agritourism in Poland has been supported partially by the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The above listed Priorities and Measures will be continued in 2007-2013. Promotion of rural tourism will also be supported by a new fund – European Fund for Rural Areas.

‘Tourism product of rural areas’ is listed in the Strategy for Tourism Development in 2001-2006, elaborated by the Department for Tourism in the Ministry of Economy, as one of five branding products of Poland. In the project of Strategy for Tourism Development in 2007-2013, rural tourism has been mentioned in several priorities, especially in Priority V, Measure 2.2 relating to generation of ‘green jobs’ by developing ecotourism and agritourism.


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  2. Informacja o rozwoju agroturystyki na obszarach wiejskich [Information on agritourism development on rural areas]. Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Warsaw 2005 [in Polish].

  3. Legienis H.: Baza agroturystyczna w kraju i w regionach [Agritourism domestic and regional base]. Instytut Turystyki, Warsaw 2002 [in Polish].

  4. Polska wies po wejsciu do Unii Europejskiej [Polish rural areas after accession to the European Union]. Fundacja na Rzecz Rozwoju Polskiego Rolnictwa. Warsaw 2004 [in Polish].

  5. Rosner A.: Wiejskie obszary kumulac ji barier rozwojowych [Rural Areas of Barrier to Growth Cumulation]. IRWiR, Warsaw 2002 [in Polish].

  6. Rural Development Plan 2004-2006. Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Warsaw 2003.

  7. Rural Tourism in Poland – from Dispersed Activities to a Complex Strategy. Materials from X Polish Agritourism Symposium, Scientific Publication of Agricultural Academy in Cracow No 90, Kraków 2003.

  8. Sikorska-Wolak I.: Tourism in local development. Warsaw Agricultural University Pub., Warsaw 2004.

  9. Strategy for Rural Development and Agriculture Development in 2007-2013. Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Warsaw 2005.

  10. Strategia Rozwoju Turystyki na lata 2007-2013 – projekt z dn. 21 czerwca 2006 r. [Strategy of Tourism Development 2007-2013 – draft on June 21st 2006] [in Polish].

  11. Sznajder M., Przezbórska L.: Agroturystyka [Agritourism]. PWE, Warsaw 2006 [in Polish].

  12. Turystyka w 2005 roku [Tourism in 2005]. Informacje i opracowania statystyczne, GUS, Warsaw 2006.


<footnote 1>
Rural areas in Poland mean all the area beyond administrative borders of cities, while in other European Union countries and OECD the division in to rural and urban areas is based on population density index.


Accepted for print: 06.10.2006

Izabella Sikorska-Wolak
Department of Human Sciences,
Warsaw Agricultural University, Poland
Nowursynowska 166, 02-787 Warsaw, Poland

Responses to this article, comments are invited and should be submitted within three months of the publication of the article. If accepted for publication, they will be published in the chapter headed 'Discussions' and hyperlinked to the article.