Costales Nature Farms (CNF) is a working farm on 10 hectares of land at at Majayjay, Laguna, producing a wide range of goods from hogs to herbs which it supplies to high-end clients in the hotel and retail sectors. But it is much more. CNF is the Philippines No.1 farm-tourism destination, attracting travellers from across the country and from overseas, and stands at the cutting edge of a tourism sub-sector that has the potential to become a mainstay of the industry.
More commonly referred to as agritourism, Mina Gabor, president of the International School of Sustainable Tourism (ISST), claims farm tourism as one of the Philippines “sunshine industries”. Ms Gabor, who was Tourism Secretary (1996-98) in the Fidel V. Ramos administration, believes that the rural composition of the Philippines provides tremendous scope for building the sector right across the archipelago.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimated that agricultural land in the Philippines in 2013 accounted for 41.7% of the country’s total land area.
Furthermore, rural Philippines has a ready and substantial workforce. Of the country’s 41.37 million-strong workforce, 29% are employed in the agricultural sector – close to 12 million workers. But that’s only part of the picture. The countryside is home to 54% of the country’s 102 million people – a rural population of 55 million – and with high levels of unemployment and underemployment it is also home to many of the country’s poorest.
But while it has the land, and some of the best crop-growing soil in the world, and while it has the people, as with tourism as a whole, it lacks the infrastructure to make it commercial.
Farm tourism in the Philippines first emerged in 2012 when the Department of Tourism (DOT) accredited CNF as a tourism destination. Four years later there are more than 100 DOT-accredited locations, most of which are on the northern island of Luzon. In effect, agritourism is a subsector of a subsector, coming within the fold of nature tourism which handles between 20 and 30% of the total tourism market.
The ISST is involved with providing instruction to the owners and workers of small- and medium-sized farms on the best ways to market and promote their products to a wider customer base – not just the vegetables and the poultry, but, where there is potential, the farm itself as a destination for tourists. These elements of its work will be on display on 14 and 15 July it stages its 4th Farm Tourism Conference and Farm Tourism Market Festival in Tagaytay City, Cavite.