From Growth Publishing for SEARCA

Farm tourism’s non-inclusion in the Investment Priorities Plan (IPP) 2017 and lack of financing for agritourism cooperatives have been identified as major gaps that hinder the Philippines’ agritourism development.

Organic lettuce grown outdoors at the Dioko Farm in San Pablo City,
Laguna.

In a farm tourism workshop hosted by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), a strategic plan has been presented to address the gaps that will help the Philippines compete with the progressive farm tourism prominence of Japan and Thailand. “It is imperative to close the gap to ensure that there is a harmonized approach to development, monitoring, and evaluation across all partner agencies,” said Gwendolyn S. Batoon, Department of Tourism (DOT) Farm & Ecotourism team head, at the SEARCA workshop.

The DOT is adopting the “Philippine Brand” which is patterned after Thailand’s use of its unique identity of farming rice and silk while promoting its canal waterways as conveyors of farm produce to markets. At the same time, its other benchmark is Japan’s use of the “prefecture” identity—promoting its unique products like wasabi and wagyu.

Promoting farm tourism has been a top advocacy of SEARCA since it was introduced in 2012 at the first Philippine National Agritourism Research Conference. The organization believes it is a route to more rural jobs and increasing farmers’ incomes. “We are happy that four years later, the Philippines has signed into law the Farm Tourism Development Act. It will help raise farmers’ (incomes) and increase players in the rural tourism industry,” said SEARCA Director Gil C. Saguiguit Jr.

He cites important progress in agritourism in the Mekong subregion as an example. “Southeast Asia is blessed with natural resources…some have (the potential) to contribute substantially to the region’s economy. The Mekong sub-region has recognized that agriculture and tourism are not totally mutually exclusive.

These have convergence points that bring (about the addition of value to each other as a result),” Saguiguit said.

Farm owner Celso Dioko poses with veggies grown the hydroponics way.

SEARCA has partnered with the International School of Sustainable Tourism, Agricultural Training Institute, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), the Department of Trade and Industry, and the office of Senator Cynthia Villar in pushing for agritourism development.

Batoon said these are the other important gaps to address:
• Absence or lack of marketing support or corresponding financial incentives, including those for joint promotions, participations in trade fairs and exhibits, standardization of farm tourism brands, and assistance in distribution and marketing of farm products
• Absence of a comprehensive farm tourism information system
• Absence of capacity building of local government units and for farm owners to take on functions of tour operators to improve markup in favor of farmers and their seasonal workforce
• Absence of data on supply side, trends and innovations on farm tourism that may be shared with operators
• Inadequate knowledge on manpower needs, sustainable practices, and lack of data on sustainable farm tourism
• Non-standardized competency standards on training regulations and cost of accreditation for farm tourism enterprises
• Absence of technical vocational training for farm tourism operators/practitioners
• Absence of subsidies for farmers to attend international conferences to benchmark against international models
• Lack of integration of hospitality programs and absence of formalization of farm tourism employment
• Lack of infrastructure support to develop farm to market roads, access roads to the farms, and ultimately widening (these) to accommodate farm tourism capacity
• Lack of retail orientation for “roadside curbs to contribute to the sales of the farms that provide the produce for these destination specialty goods”
• Lack of assistance for farm sanitation and energy management, which is an expensive cost for industries

Tourism can become a strong source of economic growth, Batoon said. “When (the) agritourism experience becomes an event that leaves a lasting impression of ‘Made in the Philippines’ and the Philippines’ Way of Life, tourism truly becomes a pillar of economic growth in the rural community.”

The government needs to promote destinations as sources of specialty products. This will expand the small and medium enterprise (SME) supply chain. “Agritourism has the potential to enhance the appeal and demand for local products not only (in) the domestic market but (also with) international travelers who can be the catalyst for growth in the international market,” said Batoon.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s February 2018 issue.