March 20, 2023
The Philippines should aspire to have UN-World Trade Organization-named “Best Tourism Villages” that help sustain rural economy and cultural traditions and support livelihood in the outskirts.
Antonio Lopez de Avila, UNWTO Tourism for Rural Development Programme coordinator, said at a tourism forum of the Southeast Asian Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) that farm tourism will play a significant role in post-Covid rural development.
As borders have started to open since countries imposed movement restrictions at the height of the pandemic, farm tourism will now play a big role in the recovery of economies.
“We can use tourism as a powerful driver. People are discovering new routes. They do what they have not done before like harvest crops,” he said.
One way to encourage rural towns to invest in tourism development is to provide incentives for rural areas to strive to qualify for the Best Tourism Villages, a United Nations WTO program.
The Alula Framework for Inclusive Community Development through Tourism has been set up by the WTO, G20 Tourism Working Group, and the G20 Saudi Presidency in a vision to improve the livelihood of many people. The Alula Framework has a vision that livelihood generation can be achieved through education, investment, innovation, and technology in farm tourism sector.
In the same SEARCA tourism forum titled “Unleashing Untapped Opportunities of Agrifood Tourism, Keneth de Gracia of the Department of Tourism (DOT) 4-A said the Philippines has already emerged as a top farm tourism destination.
This has arisen due largely to the ratification of Republic Act 10816 or an “Act Providing for the Development and Promotion of Farm Tourism in the Philippines.”
Even more, farm tourism is becoming popular especially among the youth who are exposed to a new face of agriculture. The pandemic has brought about awareness on agriculture’s role in sustaining food production, nutrition, and health.
De Gracia said DOT has engaged in a technical cooperation with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO). This will come up with a standard module for capacity development in farm tourism. I will train people on farm tourism sites in Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas Rizal, Quezon).
Dr. Siti Fatimahwati Pehin Dato Musa, professor at Universiti Brunei Darusalam, also said at SEARCA’s agritourism forum that the current fast food culture has become a threat to food traditions. This is why there is a hunger for agritourism and farm-to-table (FTT) activities.
SEARCA has engaged in discussions on agritourism even as SEARCA Director Glenn B. Gregorio said “agritourism is an innovative pathway to ISARD.”
ISARD or inclusive and sustainable agricultural and rural development is the mandate of SEARCA when it was founded as a treaty organisation in 1966.
Through the farm tourism sector, new markets are created for agricultural products, said Pehin Dato Musa.
Traceability of food sources is strengthened, and transport of goods becomes shorter in distance and cheaper as communities get to be aware of farms’ presence.
“FTT groups have been taking responsibility for promoting local artisans, local farmers, and local flavours through regional events such as taste workshops, wine and food tasting, and farmers’ markets.”
Best Tourism qualification
To qualify for the “Best Tourism Villages,” a candidate site should have a population of a maximum of 15,000 inhabitants. Its location should showcase traditional activities particularly agriculture, forestry, livestock, or fishing.
As not all can be Best Tourism Villages winners, UNWTO gives support to candidates through partnerships that help improve a site after an evaluation.
Among the benefits of the UNWTO program are training, sharing of good practices, participation in international events, networking, mentoring, and financing.
The Best Tourism Villages provides guidance to governments and the private sector on putting up tourism policies through education, investment, innovation and technology to “transform the livelihoods of millions, while preserving our environment and culture.”
UNWTO advances the role of tourism as it preserves “landscapes, knowledge systems, biological and cultural diversity, values and activities” in rural areas.
De Avila said UNWTO’s secretary general Surab Pololikashvili stated that “tourism has proven to be a lifeline for many rural communities, but its true potential has yet to be realized.”
According to the WTO, tourism accounts for 7% of world trade. It is among the most resilient sectors of the economy and generates millions of jobs.
Pehin Dato Musa said farm-to-table activities in Southeast Asia include cooking classes, events, tours, markets and school or organization activities.
Tourists get to value their heritage. People realize it is much safer to tour locally where farms are.
“Agritourism farms in California can operate despite Covid 19 regulations. And 61% of revenue direct sales of agricultural products are delivered fresh to consumers.”
One agritourism site in Brunei, Pehin Dato Musa cites, the Sumbiling Eco Village, is a protected rainforest. Its natives practice organic farming and agroforestry– planting native trees and bamboo. The Iban people’s food heritage also offers unique culinary experience. Tourists get the chance to look for edible or medicinal plants, stingless bee honey, and wild herbs in the deep forest as one activity.
Farm tourism can develop infrastructure in rural areas. A big gap has been observed in the absence of electricity in rural areas compared to urban areas. Absence of electricity affects 638 million rural compared to 121 million urban people. Such big difference is true too in sanitation services and drinking water and financial services. Melody Mendoza Aguiba
Featured Photo Credit: UNWTO