ASIDE FROM ECO-TOURISM, HERITAGE, RELIGIOUS RITES: Abaca to boost Catanduanes’ tourism industry
By Jason B. Neola VIRAC, Catanduanes --- The provincial government here wishes to strengthen its tourism industry through farm tourism -- the practice of attracting visitors and tourists to farm areas -- by way of inviting tourists to stay at abaca farms for production, educational, and recreational purposes. Farm tourism, which involves any agricultural or fishery-based operation, provides a venue for outdoor recreation and accessible family outings with farm owners and farmworkers earning additional income from foreign and local tourists willing to pay for the valuable and fun-filled activities they experienced while in the farm. The approach also allows farm operators and workers to benefit from various incentives under the Organic Agriculture Act of 2010 (RA 10068) such as exemption from the payment of duties on the importation of agricultural equipment, machinery and implements as provided for under the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act, identification by LGUs of local taxes that may be offered as incentives to organic input production and utilization, provision of preferential rates and special window to organic input producers and users at the Land Bank of the Philippines, and subsidies for certification fees and other support services to facilitate organic certification. It also involves Zero-rated value added tax on transactions involving the sales/purchase of bio-organic products, whether organic inputs or organic produce, and Income Tax Holiday for seven years, starting from the date of registration with the concerned investment promotion agency for organic food and organic input producers. Gov. Joseph Cua said that his office has now started to formally coordinate with the regional office of the Department of Tourism (DoT) to learn key strategies on how to improve the lives of communities engage in abaca production by means of farm tourism. Executive Director Kennedy Costales of the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA) said that Catanduanes has the biggest share of abaca production in the country as it has the capacity to supply 40% needed by the Philippine market alone. This island province called Happy Island has 212 abaca-producing barangays covering a total land area of 33,186 hectares separately located in 11 municipalities that can achieve an average annual production of 647 kilograms per hectare. Costales, in his visit to this province during the grand opening of the Abaca Festival Trade Fair last May 22, this year, said that his office is committed to help abaca farm operators and farmers in the province to double their income every harvest season as he is also tasked by the Department of Agriculture (DA) to cover the deficit of 35,000 metric tons of abaca in the global market. The Philippines’ share in Abaca worldwide is 85% (40% of which come from Catanduanes while the remaining share come from different sources in Camarines Sur, Masbate, Sorsogon and Albay and other provinces in the country), Ecuador has 14% share, Costa Rica is less than 1 percent while Indonesia is on the process of propagating abaca planting. DoT Regional Director Maria Ravanilla said that Gov. Cua was on the right track when he decided to welcome the idea to adopt the concept of farm tourism as it would help his province not only in attaining significant number of tourist arrivals but in improving as well the socio-economic posture of the barangays. “Abaca is a part of farm tourism that President Duterte’s administration is advocating; that is why we can be sure that this matter will be extended with support from the government agencies mandated by Republic Act 10816 to promote farm tourism,” says Ravanilla. RA 10816 also known as the “Farm Tourism Development Act of 2016” was signed into law on May 23, 2016 by then President Benigno Aquino III to recognize the importance of agriculture in sustaining and enhancing the life of the Filipinos, not just in terms of food production, but also in providing livelihood to a major portion of the population. She said that it is right that Catanduanes wouldn’t settle only for just being an abaca distributor as it has to explore the opportunities at hand to achieve a robust economy. To ensure that the objectives are attained, the law created the Farm Tourism Development Board under the Department of Tourism (DoT). With the secretaries of the DoT and Department of Agriculture at the helm, acting as chair and vice-chair, respectively, the Board shall formulate and set the overall direction for the implementation of a Farm Tourism Strategic Action Plan which is a comprehensive set of programs, projects and activities for the growth of farm tourism in the country. The plan, which is integrated and consistent with the National Tourism Development Plan, covers various areas of concern, such as investment promotion and financing; market research, trends, innovations and information; accreditation of farm tourism camps; market promotion and development; agriculture and fishery research, development and extension; institutional and human resource development; and infrastructure support. It also defines the roles and responsibilities of national government agencies, local government units (LGUs), farm tourism operators, tour operators, educational institutions, and other industry stakeholders in its implementation. In terms of investment promotion and financing, the DoT, DA and the Dept. of Trade and Industry (DTI) shall develop programs linking stakeholders in the farm tourism industry, government financial institutions, government-owned or controlled corporations, private banks, financial cooperatives and other lending institutions to increase access to credit for farm tourism.