ASU hosts international agri-ecotourism congress

ANCHORED on the theme "Revitalizing agro-industrial connectivity toward sustainable ecology and resilient GloCal Village," the 2nd International Agri-ecotourism Congress from September 11 to 12 was hosted by the Aklan State University (ASU) in Boracay, Malay, Aklan.

Held at the Paradise Garden in Boracay, the event aimed to serve as a platform for the dissemination of research results and for sharing knowledge, experiences and culture in establishing agri-ecotourism technologies and innovations to sustain and mainstream the agri-ecotourism industry to a diverse set of audience.

The event was attended by students, faculty researchers, scientists, research specialists, agricultural service providers, private sectors engaged in the agri-ecotourism industry, local government units and other stakeholders in agri-ecotourism from France, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Joining the event was the Philippine government-hosted Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) headed by Director Glenn Gregorio.

Gregorio said the agency, through Nova Ramos, SEARCA's Training for Development Unit head under the Education and Collective Learning Department, presented agri-ecotourism as a pillar of rural development.

Gregorio said Ramos shared the center's capacity-building initiatives on agri-ecotourism, including its support for agri-innovators, that catered to legislators, educators, practitioners and other stakeholders across the Southeast Asian region and beyond.

Ramos also highlighted the sociocultural, economic and environmental benefits of agri-ecotourism and its potential as a pathway for inclusive and sustainable rural development.

Aklan Gov. Jose Enrique Miraflores in his message delivered by a representative underscored the importance of tourism in their province, its annual growth and the challenges that it brings.

In his message, Miraflores stressed the need to gear tourism toward benefiting everyone, whether from a social, economic or environmental point of view saying, "This is the significance of agri-ecotourism, as it aims to guide tourism development with respect for local communities, all in harmony with the environment."

The education factor

Lily Freida Macabangun-Milla, Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) International Affairs Staff director, said CHEd supports education and lifelong learning in tourism.

"This project was intended to make the university the destination itself as it leverages on the trifold function of the university that is instruction, research and extension as it glocalizes the higher education institutions (HEIs) by taking advantage of global developments," Macabangun-Milla said.

Tourism education comes into play in terms of the progress in the sector in areas that are not the usual tourist destinations but could offer more in terms of agri-ecotourism, she added.

In building the international competitiveness of higher education institutions, Macabangun-Milla said, "CHEd endeavors to uphold international commitments and support HEIs like ASU in promoting to build knowledge-based society and ensure that we have responsible global citizens for the world and of the world."

As keynote speaker, Sen. Lorna Regina "Loren" Legarda also said that "future agro-industrial connectivity is not just a concept, but a part of the future where our actions align with the principles of sustainability and resilience in agriculture and industry."

In her video message, Legarda urged both industrial and agricultural stakeholders to forge links to move forward together toward sustainable tourism saying that education is vital in developing responsible tourism that benefits all stakeholders.

She also noted that education and awareness-raising help highlight the beauty, diversity and cultural importance of agricultural activities while offering educational and recreational experiences.

"One person can stimulate rural development, support farmers and local communities, and create sustainable and authentic tourism experiences, thereby promoting environmental conservation, raising awareness of sustainable agriculture, as well as offering a promising avenue for economic development, environmental preservation and cultural exchange," Legarda added.

Views outside of PH

Also during the event, Etriya Etriya, a lecturer from the Department of Agribusiness, Institut Pertanian Bogor (IPB) in Indonesia, presented a more concrete definition of agri-ecotourism.

She said agri-ecotourism is a hybrid form of agritourism where activities are based directly on agriculture and ecotourism, and this requires responsible travel to natural areas to preserve the environment.

"Agri-ecotourism allows tourists to contribute to small communities through their purchasing decisions; in turn, they have a chance to learn more about the history and environmental activities of the region," Etriya added.

The ASEAN Center for Biodiversity presentation through Arvin Diesmos, Biodiversity Information Management Unit director, emphasized the importance of nature-based solutions to conserve and protect natural resources for the benefit of the agri-ecotourism industry.

The international event also featured breakout sessions, with the participants divided into two groups to cover all the research carried out on agri-ecotourism, namely the Natural/Biological Science and Development category and the Social Science category.

Also included in the presentations were research on biosolids from the wastewater treatment plant, mangrove tea, kabuteng saging production and cultivation, exploration of local historical and cultural sites, business risks and resilience practices of Guimaras' coastal resorts, the contribution of the weaving industry on local weavers and engaging youth in agri-ecotourism, among others.