Intl confab spotlights SEARCA's capacity-building programs on agrotourism

LAGUNA (September 14, 2023)—The capacity-building initiatives on agrotourism of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), headquartered on the campus of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), took center stage during an international conference in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia.

SEARCA director Dr. Glenn Gregorio said the center presented its farm/agrotourism training programs, conferences, webinars and other learning events that catered to legislators, educators, practitioners and other stakeholders across the Southeast Asian region and beyond.

Gregorio said Dr. Nova Ramos, head of SEARCA Training for Development Unit under the Education and Collective Learning Department led the presentation during the Sarawak Agrotourism Conference and Expo (SAtCE) held at the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK) from August 28 to 30, 2023.

Ramos highlighted during the second day of the conference the agrotourism's sociocultural, economic and environmental benefits and potential for inclusive and sustainable rural development.

At the opening of the conference, Dato Sri Dr. Stephen Rundi Anak Utom, Sarawak Minister of Food Industry, Commodity and Regional Development (M-Ficord), noted that all efforts engaged in agriculture should yield returns on investments.

He stressed that to transform agriculture, farmers must change their perspectives, understand how modern farming is implemented so they can generate more income, and be able to adopt modern and smart farming.

Exhorting the private and public sectors as well as the communities to join hands and begin a smart partnership to promote agrotourism in Sarawak, he noted that they want to attract the younger generation to go into modern agriculture.

"We need to be able to transform their mindsets that agriculture is cool. Agrotourism is one way to do this," he said.

Meanwhile, Sarawak Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Dr. Abang Haji Abdul Rahman Zohari bin Tun Datuk Abang Haji Openg said Sarawak is abundant in agricultural treasures and has the potential to cater to tourists, who are seeking authentic cultural and agrotourism experiences.

The Premier's speech was delivered by Deputy Premier Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas.

Stressing that the Sarawak government is fully committed to supporting agrotourism in the state as a means to uplift the communities and enable rural development, the Premier said the community-based tourism is an integral part of agrotourism and it empowers residents by directly engaging them in tourism activities.

He also emphasized that the pursuit of job creation through agrotourism should not just be from the perspective of building an agrotourism industry but nurturing a sustainable agrotourism industry focused on a more environmentally conscious approach to tourism and agriculture.

The benefits of agrotourism, he said, go beyond economic gains, encompassing rural development, community participation, and job creation, he added.

According to Gregorio, the SAtCE 2023 served as a dynamic platform, bringing together local and global agrotourism pioneers and industry players in a vibrant convergence.

The conference convened around 200 delegates and 20 exhibitors from across the region, signaling the start of Sarawak's journey toward high-quality agrotourism.

These were speakers from Australia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand who discussed key topics on global trends, case studies, and regional policies in agrotourism.

Capped by a visit to the Borneo Empurau Farm and Resort, which boasts of modern agriculture (e.g., fertigation, aquaponics, etc.) and empurau breeding and research, the conference was organized by Derrisen Sn Bhd, with the endorsement of the M-Ficord and Business Events Sarawak.

Empurau is a freshwater fish indigenous to Sarawak and is the most expensive edible fish in Malaysia.