By Yvette Tan
Many things are more fun in the Philippines. Food, beaches, and for a growing number of people, farm tourism.
“Tourism is being recognized as being a major contributor to economic growth,” says Department of Tourism Secretary Bernadette “Berna” Romulo-Puyat, adding that tourism comprises 12.4% of the country’s GDP. The industry employs 12.79% of the workforce, a .9% increase from the previous year.
Part of the DoT’s thrust is fostering a culture of responsible tourism. “Tourism is a multifaceted industry and the only way to enhance it is through a holistic development,” Secretary Puyat says. “We want to create a culture of responsible tourism. The national, local, and private sector all have to work together for our tourists and our tourist destinations. We should all be champions of sustainable tourism to create a dependable source of income for Filipinos.”
She adds: “For us in the Department of Tourism, it is not the numbers that matter the most, but ultimately, we have to strike a balance between business opportunities and social responsibilities. With the tourism sector’s increasing influence over economic and cultural development, we believe that it can also be a force in driving sustainable development in the country. If you don’t take care of your environment, ano na yung tourist destination mo? For your children? So we really have to take care of our environment.”
Like its name implies, farm tourism combines agriculture with tourism. Accredited farms offer visitors various educational and recreational experiences on site, as well as chance to experience farm life. It’s a great way to combine the Philippines’ agricultural heritage and the Filipinos’ famed hospitality.
“We will be promoting visiting farms,” Secretary Puyat says. “For this year, we only have a small budget for the Farm Tourism Development Act… so we are revising it but of course ang maganda dito ay ang—I’ve been in the DA for close to 12 years. I probably know agri inside and out.”
A Background in Agriculture
Before she was appointed to the DoT, Secretary Puyat spent 12 years working in the Department of Agriculture. “Even when I was in the DA, I was already a supporter of slow food and sustainable dining. Being in the DoT, nag-expand lang, not only for sustainability of dining but the sustainability of the whole tourism,” she says.
She enumerates examples of farm tourism opportunities off the top of her head: “Not many people know that mga April and May you can just go to La Union and go grape picking. Starting October 26, you can go to Camiguin and go lanzones picking.”
Opportunity for Growth
The farm tourism industry has been growing for a while now, and with the rising public awareness on the importance of sourcing local and sustainable ingredients, it a good time to put farm tourism in the DoT spotlight. “When I entered the Department of Agriculture back 2006, when I would tell people I was in the DA, parang move on, parang nothing to talk about. But… as early as 2014, people would join me in my trips when I would go to the farms just so they could experience what it is to be a farmer. And agriculture has never been so important. The farmer is given importance. After all, we are an agricultural country and obviously, that’s very dear to my heart,” Secretary Puyat says.
She adds: “Farming is very important to me and what I love now is a lot of our chefs would rather go local than buy imported. They actually want to go directly—not through a middleman—they want to meet the farmer because they want the farmer’s income to increase. That is one of my goals, and I will give importance to that.”