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Farm Tourism for Bicol?

The acknowledged “Father of Agri Tourism” of the country of India, Shri Pandurang Taware, is in town! After his Bicol travel, he will be one of the speakers sharing vast experiences and best practices on farm tourism in the forthcoming 7th Philippine Farm Tourism Conference held in Panglao, Bohol, on February 26-28. An expected crowd of 350 participants from all over the country and other parts of the world who are advocates and practitioners of sustainable development in agriculture and tourism are attending.

But tonight, at Soledad Restaurant on Magsaysay Avenue, Naga City, some 50 local enthusiasts from business, the academe, and government agencies gathered in a quickly organized private dinner cum talkies with the renowned farm tourism expert from India, who was given a presidential award by no less than his government for his innovative agritourism concept of attracting tourists to experience the authentic rural life, taste the local food and engage in various agricultural tasks in the farm as a business. I had only planned to chat with Shri Pandurang one-on-one when I learned from SED Project leader Dr. Hany Hidalgo that he was coming to Naga City at the invitation of CBSUA, where Hany also teaches. From the CBSUA, the guests toured Sonrisa, a farm resort near the foot of Mt. Isarog, Nesting Place in Calabanga, and lunched at Green Earth at Carolina, Naga. Tourist farms now abound in many parts of Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Albay, Sorsogon, Masbate, and Catanduanes.

Suddenly, I took an interest in the concept and how it would connect with the Social Enterprises Development (SED) Project that I manage along with Dr. Cely Binoya and the project leaders from the Mariners Canaman and Legazpi, Tabang Bikol Movement and the Central Bicol State University in Agriculture (CBSUA) for the grant from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED). The two-year SED project aims to develop the framework for sustainable social enterprises among disaster survivors in Bicol. Farm tourism is a form, type, or expression of a social enterprise? It may just be that!

The invited dinner participants benefited from the visit thanks to the dinner host, the Camarines Sur Chamber of Commerce. They enjoyed the evening of dining that included a fine mix of vegan and non-vegan, i.e., regular sumptuous foods at Soledad. As usual, with the CSCCI ever displaying a mastery for instant moderating and emceeing, VP Tess Delfin glided through the drafted program with natural ease and excitement. EVP Annie Badong welcomed the guests, and newly elected President Carl Malazarte supported the gathering and the excellent topic, being a farm-owning entrepreneur himself. Partner regional NGAs like DA, DoST, DTI, and DoT came to support along with Bicol University CBSUA and Mariners Polytechnic Colleges in Naga, which is celebrating its 50th year on March 4.

I introduced the guest, unmindful of the long introductory note I received, and I thought that his talk on his direct engagement in farm tourism was all that mattered for now. Shri Pandurang came with the director of his company called AgroTourism, a large farm owner named Avinash Jogoand, who owns 350 hectares and a large household of 40 persons from three generations. Shri Pandurang is a multi-faceted farm tourism entrepreneur -creator and promoter, marketing and directing various tourism programs, projects, and organizations he founded and initiated in India. He collaborates with the Department of Tourism in Maharashtra, one of India’s largest commercial and industrial centers regarded also as a popular tourist destination. His multistakeholder Agritourism Development Company group, Pure Holidays, is a co-convener of the Philippine Farm Tourism Conference in Bohol along with the International School of Sustainable Tourism (ISST), with the support of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), DTI, DA, DSWD, DILG, and DoT.

Nature-based and participatory

Farm tourism combines agriculture and tourism that showcase the natural environment and community-based activities where visitors can participate or enjoy watching. It is slowly becoming a popular industry all over the world, including in some parts of the Philippines; in India, there are beautiful farmhouses and farm stays in almost every state, some surrounded by a serene river and nature reserve where farming families produce vegetables, fruits, spices, and milk. Tourist farms offer visitors various activities, such as hill trekking, bird-watching, bamboo rafting, gardening, cow milking, and even organic cooking classes. Spas, massages, reflexology shops, aromatic oils, and baths are available for alternative health and wellness.

Farm tourism aligns creatively with TBM’s HEAL program, where activities and projects promote the health and environmental concerns of the communities. However, all of TBM’s communities belong to the poor and marginalized, so they cannot build the necessary infrastructure to attract tourists to their place. How else would the poor farmers engage in farm tourism if they do not have a piece of land to till and develop? Bicol is a vast agricultural land owned by only a few farms or landowners.

The Farm Tourism Development Act of 2016 has attracted big landowners to convert their land to farm resorts and become exclusive havens for elite tourists. To be inclusive and beneficial for the more significant sector of the farmers in the rural areas, access to land and nature’s resources must be for the more substantial majority. Helping the poor farmers set up their social enterprises means allowing them greater access to land ownership and nature. The land is the necessary base for farm tourism. With it, farm tourism will be limited to a few, defeating the law’s noble purpose of farm tourism.


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