LOS BAÑOS, Laguna, Philippines – The time may not be long when agriculture-tourism farms will become fixtures in most if not all provinces across the country.
A bill filed by Sen. Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, which seeks to promote farm tourism in the country had already been ratified by Congress last February and is now awaiting signature by President Aquino.
The crafting of the proposed measure has been in the legislative mill for some time, with its authors in both the House of Representatives and Senate putting their minds together to help boost agri-tourism in this country of 7,100 islands subdivided into 81 provinces comprising 1,489 towns.
Another feature of the bill is the creation of the Philippine Farm Tourism Industry Development Coordinating Council to, among other things, ensure that policies and programs of government, including local government units and state universities and colleges and the private sector’s activities are harmonized toward the development and promotion of farm tourism.
Villar said farm tourism could help solve the problem of urban migration.
“Agriculture-Tourism can be considered as the ‘sunshine industry’ in the agriculture sector. We believe in the potential of our people in agriculture, that’s why we are working on this bill that will allow our farmers and fisherfolks to seize the opportunity,” Villar said.
Rep. Sharon Garin of Party-list AAMBIS-OWA, one of the authors of the Lower House’s version of the bill, said farms could be viable tourism destinations once the Farm Tourism Act is signed into law.
Garin and Albay Rep. Fernando Gonzalez stressed that “the fusion of tourism and agriculture would boost the country’s economy by improving the income and potential economic viability of small farms and rural communities.”
Once the bill is enacted into law, there shall be at least one tourism farm in each of the 81 provinces, Garin said.
The tourism committee, headed by Bohol Rep. Rene Relampagos, had for months consulted farm owners, tourism officers, agriculture specialists, tourism and government officials, and other stakeholders.
According to Villar, the country now has at least 32 agri-tourism sites, including 27 protected strawberry and organic vegetable farms in Benguet and pineapple and coffee plantations in Bukidnon.
Agri-Tourism refers to “the practice of attracting visitors and tourists to areas for production, educational, and recreational purposes. It involves any agricultural or fishery-based activity that brings to farm visitors, tourists, farmers, and fisherfolk who want to be educated and trained on farming and its related activities, and provides a venue for outdoor recreation and accessible family outings.”
In recent times, agriculture-tourism has been taking shape, and research is being harmonized to unravel the vast potential of this fledgling industry.
A number of state universities and colleges have been taking the lead in enhancing agri-tourism’s growth.
The UP-Los Banos-based Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) and the UP-Asian Institute of Tourism Technology Foundation held the first National Agri-Tourism Conference in the Philippines” in 2012.
A memorandum of agreement signed by TFI president Jaime de los Santos and SEARCA director Gil C. Saguiguit Jr. paved the way for the holding of the assembly, which was attended by about 120 tourism industry investors, regulators, other stakeholders, and members of the academe engaged in Agri-Tourism R&D projects.
The encouraging state of Agri-Tourism in the country can best be exemplified by the strides achieved by Benguet State University (BSU), the regional university in the Cordilleras whose main campus is in the Benguet capital town of La Trinidad situated seven kilometers north of Baguio City.