Reshaping PH agriculture through farm tourism

By: Malou Guanzon Apalisok - CDN Digital | November 10,2019 - 06:47 AM

At the recent 6th Philippine Farm Tourism Conference held at the Marco Polo Plaza in Cebu City I was pleasantly surprised to hear that big landlords from different places across the country had joined small farm holders, reps of local government units and tourism industry operators in the three-day conference.  I spotted a former governor of Batangas, local businessmen and professionals.  I also made acquaintances with tourism officers from other provinces including youthful delegates who are into social enterprises through agricultural lands.  

Organized by the International School of Sustainable Tourism (ISST) and the Cebu Alliance of Tour Operation Specialists (CATOS), the conference drew over 700 delegates from across the country, all very interested to learn from sustainable tourism experts and the best practitioners of the fast-growing industry.  

The farm tourism program is the brainchild of former Department of Tourism Secretary Mina Gabor.  For lack of space, I will only mention her last government post (1995 to 1998).  She was actually tapped to handle the same portfolio when Gloria Macapagal Arroyo became President in 2001 but Dr. Gabor was sidelined by the death of her husband.  I guess the seemingly lost opportunity was a blessing in disguise because it gave her ample time to focus on her passion: community-based rural tourism.  

Her advocacy eventually pushed the enactment of RA 10816 (An Act To Develop Farm Tourism). She was instrumental in the 2002 United Nations’ declaration of Ecotourism Celebration.  Around tourism and trade circles and among sustainable tourism advocates and practitioners, she stands tall as their champion.  I’m not surprised former President Arroyo’s message sounded like a tribute to Dr. Gabor, whom she described as an icon of sustainable tourism.  

We think of farm tourism in terms of attracting domestic and foreign tourists who continually seek alternative experiences.  My friend Joselito “Boboi” Costas called them“biophiles,”or tourists who want to get closer to nature, in search of adventure through exotic food and unique culture but according to Agriculture Technical Institute ATI Assistant Director Rosana Mula, who subbed for Department of Agriculture Secretary William Dar, the challenge of farm tourism should be tackled in the context of the Fourth Revolution.  

In his book titled, The Fourth Revolution, Klaus Martin Scwab, founder of the World Economic Forum said, “We are witnessing profound shifts across all industries, marked by the emergence of new business models, the disruption of incumbents and the reshaping of production, consumption, transportation and delivery systems. On the societal front, a paradigm shift is underway in how we work and communicate, as well as how we express, inform and entertain ourselves.”

I will not belabor the impact of the Fourth Revolution but this complex backdrop should prompt us to look inward and consider how these paradigm shifts would challenge our ideas about what it means to be human, as Dr. Scwab puts it.  

As I listened to the inputs of the various speakers, I thought we maybe looking at the reshaping of Philippine agriculture through farm tourism.

Apparently, Secretary William Dar understands the profound paradigm shifts across all industries that Dr. Scwab is talking about because according to Director Mula, the DA Secretary has been pushing for agriculture to be treated as an industry.  

Industrializing agriculture means that every agri commodity will move towards increased productivity and enhanced income through value adding, processing, manufacturing, and developing markets. The aim is “to further engage the private sector in investing and setting up of more agriculture-based industries and markets in the countryside.”

She stressed that the benefits of farm tourism to our agriculture sector is unlimited taking into consideration the growing market among dwellers and foreign visitors.  

In case you missed it, foreign visits to farm tourism sites in the country have increased by 10.24 percent. Further, the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study & Research recently reported that the Philippines is one of the world’s preferred agriculture-tourism destination alongside such other destinations as Taiwan, Brazil, Tuscany, Hawaii, Mallorca, and California, according to Director Mula. 

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