It's more fun at the farm in Cebu

CEBU IS SYNONYMOUS to Sinulog Festival, colonial-era houses and churches, succulent lechon and seafood, and powdery beaches, and luxury hotels. But unknown to many, the Queen City of the South is also home to a host of garden and farm-themed resorts in the upland villages where tourists can enjoy crisp mountain air, fresh and organic food, and recreational amenities, away from the madding crowd and traffic.

And among the farm resorts which have been drawing visitors are Sirao Flower Farm, Jaime Chua's Orchid Farm, Adlawon Vacation Farm, MSDEA Ornamental Garden, Terrazas de Flores, Serenity Farm and Resort, and Lava Mountain River Farm. North of Cebu City are the Valentin Farm and Resort in Consolacion, and Alhibe Farm in Carmen, which strengthens Cebu's status as an emerging farm tourism haven in the south.

On November 6-8, Cebu will unveil this growing sector as it hosts the 6th Farm Tourism Conference which will gather the country's leading practitioners and stakeholders in the sunshine industry.

Themed "Farm Tourism: Building Community Relationship for Sustainable Development," the event is hosted by the City Government of Cebu, the confab is co-organized by the International School of Sustainable Tourism (ISST) and the Cebu Alliance of Tour Operations Specialist, Inc. (CATOS), with the support of the Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), and SM Seaside City Cebu. Set at the Marco Polo Plaza Hotel.

According to ISST president Mina Gabor, the conference will focus on the unique fusion of farming and tourism which helps empower local communities, provide diversified income for farmers, and encourage sustainable practices for food security. "Farm Tourism attracts visitors and travellers to farm areas, generally for educational and recreational purposes that encourage economic activity to provide farm and community income. It is one of the country's sunshine industries which can be developed because of the agricultural nature of the economy," she said.

The former tourism secretary pointed out that the conference will emphasize the vital role of strengthening communities in initiating and sustaining farm tourism efforts in the countryside.

Former President and House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, DA Secretary William Dar, and Senator Cynthia Villar, author of the Farm Tourism Development Act of 2016, will deliver keynote messages. Resource persons include ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity executive director Theresa Lim; Board of Landscape Architecture chairman Paolo Alcazaren; Arslan SRS Philippines chief executive officer Augustus Caesar Esmeralda; Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture director Glenn Gregorio; and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources director Eduardo Gongona. Parañaque City Agriculture, Fisheries, and Aquatic Services chief Nilo Germedia and Grassroots Travel Consulting founder Boboi Costas will showcase their community-based initiatives.

Bolo Aloguinsan Ecotourism Association vice president Jomelyn Delos Reyes, and Cebu Pacific corporate communications director Charo Lagamon will also talk on the importance of public-private partnership in sustainable farm tourism.

Success stories in Asia will be shared by India's Agri Tourism Development Company managing director Pandurang Taware, and Charinee Chaiyochlarb of Murrah Dairy Farm in Thailand. Gabor said the event will also accord the Lakbay Bukid Award or Farm Tourism Award to the country's foremost farm tourism pioneers, practitioners, institutions and groups who have contributed significantly to the development of the industry.

Now on its third year, the award has been opened to Asian farm tourism establishments, the first of its kind in the continent. The three-day event will also have an exhibition area for fresh and organically-grown agricultural produce, and a host of healthy food items from local entrepreneurs.

There will be site visits on leading farm tourism spots in Cebu's upland villages. Organizers said Cebu City was chosen as the confab's venue because of its strategic location and its farm tourism sites. The event will also serve as a build up to the 500th anniversary of Christianity in 2021 where the city will play a central role. (IIST. With additional reporting from Cebu Examiner.)