An emerging economic sector – a hybrid of two existing sectors – is starting to take root in the Philippines. This is agritourism, a cross-pollination of agriculture and tourism both of which expect to benefit from a symbiosis that is as unlikely as it is imaginative. Now the land is being prepared to take farm holidays to the next level.
The Farm Tourism Development Act, signed into law by former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino just two weeks before he handed over the keys of Malacañang, the presidential palace, to Rodrigo Duterte, has given this fledgling enterprise a legislative framework. The Farm Tourism Development Board (FTDB), established under the Act, is now in the process of producing a Farm Tourism Action Plan, a wide-ranging set of projects and programmes aimed at building a sustainable commercial sector that will grow tourist dollars from Philippine soil. The Implementing Rules and Regulations are also being worked on.
Agritourism, while trading off the agriculture and services sectors, is effectively a sector in its own right. The seed for it was sown in 2012 when a 10-hectare working farm in Laguna was given accreditation by the Department of Tourism (DOT) as a tourist destination. Since then, more than 100 farm-holiday locations – mostly on the island of Luzon – have sprung up and gained the DOT’s stamp of approval. A new field of tourism.
In their own rights, the two sectors are experiencing mixed fortunes with tourism remaining bullish while agriculture continues to struggle.
In the first half of this year, farm output contracted by 3.48% – 2.34% of that coming in the last three months. The crops and fisheries subsectors were the worst performers, recording production deficits of 6.8% and 5.92% respectively.
Tourism, meanwhile, fared much better. Arrivals in the first quarter of the year hit 1.6 million; a 15% increase from 1Q15. This led the DOT to lift its end-of year visitors target from 6 million to 6.5 million with tourism receipts expected to top US$6.5 billion.
While the FTDB comes under the DOT, and the action plan will be integrated into the National Tourism Development Plan, the agritourism initiative is specifically geared to lifting the agricultural sector’s fortunes – and particularly those of poorer farmers and farm workers.
The Farm Tourism Development Act has built-in provisions to grant financial assistance to farmers to develop their land and small holdings as agritourism locations. Education, training and infrastructural support are also to be provided. One of the main objectives in all this is to give cash-strapped farmers the opportunity to supplement their income. The rural Philippines, which is home to 55 million people, has high levels of unemployment and some of the worst poverty in the country.
Although many challenges lie ahead for the agritourism sector – among them, building an entirely new work culture and establishing a very different work environment in which farmers also wear a hospitality hat – one thing it can count on is land capacity. Agricultural land in the Philippines accounts for 41.7% of total land area.