We were privileged to attend the 1st National Conference on AgriTourism held at The Heritage Hotel Manila last December 2 to 3, 2014 courtesy of the Development Academy of the Philippines. We also had the chance to interview Mr. Joselito C. Bernardo, Director, Agriculture Department, Asian Productivity Organization based in Japan. Below is our insightful conversation with him:
Farmers Notebook: Please give us a background on the Agritourism Conference.
Joselito Bernardo: The Asian Productivity Organization has been organizing activities related to the promotion of rural tourism. When we talk of rural tourism, it encompasses eco tourism and agri tourism. We do multi- country projects, where different member countries send participants. We normally have 18 participants per project coming from 15 out of the 19 APO member-countries. After this multi-country projects, we ask some of the national productivity organizations or we encourage some of the participants to do a national follow-up activity like this one.
Mr. Ronald Costales, Co-Founder of Costales Nature Farms, was the participant from the Philippines in a training course on planning, and promotion of agritourism in 2012. Last year, he indicated his interest to do a national follow-up. We don’t normally provide financial support to individuals, it has to be through an organization and endorsed by the national productivity organization. In the case of the Philippines, the NPO is the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP). We advised Mr. Costales to cooperate with DAP and other partners. So this is how this conference started.
FN: What is the idea behind the 1st National Agritourism Conference theme “Changing the Agricultural Landscape”?
JB: In the Philippines, when you talk of agriculture you think of small farmers who do farming mainly for for their family’s subsistence and it’s not really operated like a business. So we are trying to change that mindset of the farmers. We are introducing the idea thet agritourism can generate additional income from their farm resources and they can improve their life because of the additional income.
I’ve seen in it Malaysia, in Taiwan, and even in Japan as well. Agritourism is also one way of convincing people outside of the agriculture sector to support the farmers – maybe paying the right price for the produce that they buy from the farmers. Consumers seldom see the real value and the hardship that the farmers go through. But once they get exposed to how the farmers live their life – like how much they spend time just to be able to produce food, I think people will be kinder to the farmers. So maybe they will also be supportive, should there be government policies that are anti farmer. So that’s how we hope to change the landscape.
FN: How do you see government support making an impact on the lives of farmers in the context of Agritourism?
JB: Government should engage small farmers doing some agritourism enterprises to develop standards just like what Taiwan did. It’s the people in the industry who are driving it but with the support from the government whose role is to do consultations like in this conference. We cannot expect poor farmers to contribute – government have to finance them and farmers in return help the government implement a very good plan.
It is important also to emphasize to the communities the long term sustainability of their farming and their livelihood as possible source of income – not just short term.
FN: What is your personal opinion on the idea of “moving the target market’s mind and hearts” as expressed by Dr. Therdchai Choibamroong?
JB: That’s what we’re saying – that farmers have to be sincere in dealing with the visitors or customers so they can get their loyalty. I have met some Japanese students who have participated in Malaysian Home Stay Program. They continue to communicate with their host family even after they have gone back to Japan. Because of the sincerity of the host family, and good experiences of the visitors, more students continue to come to Malaysia. Past participants shared the information to their friends in Japan, so our farmers should not think of agritorurism as a way of making profit alone. I also think value formation of farmers and the whole community is very important and Malaysia is very successful in that.
I think we can do it in the Philippines. We just need an agency from the government to start it. Like in Japan, the Ministry of Agriculture, through the regional offices started registration of farm households for agritourism and homestay . In Malaysia, it’s the Department of Tourism and there’s an agency responsible for training, value formation – training them how to prepare the menu, sanitation, and risk management. It’s a complete training package before a household is accredited to host foreign guests. That’s something we have to start.
FN: Which government agency do you think must take the lead in agritourism sector in the Philippines?
JB: It should be the Department of Agriculture because we are trying to address the plight of the small farmers. In most of the countries, except Malaysia where its the Ministry of Tourism taking the lead, while it is the Ministry of Agriculture that is in the driver’s seat. We saw this in Japan, Indonesia and Taiwan.
However, Thailand does not have a clear program although I have visited some areas 6 years ago where they link it with the One Village, One Product (OVOP). So some rural households don’t go into handicrafts but their agriculture activity and agritourism is their village product. Thailand’s Ministry of Industry was the one in charge of promoting OVOP.
FN: How do you see agritourism in the context of Asean Integration that will happen a year from now? And its effect?
JB: Actually, we are in a very good position because we can offer a variety of unique attractions and our brand of hospitality! The Philippines have 7,100 islands and each region haves certain inherent charm different from other areas, like Batanes or Jolo. But one of the most important things in tourism is the unique selling proposition or USP. What’s so unique about the product? Because if there’s nothing unique in your area nobody will go there. You’re lucky if among so many who offer the same product the tourist will come to you. So you really have to identify what is unique to your product!
We also have to develop a masterplan to develop the tourism products and destinations, reflecting the uniqueness of each regions and that’s the way to market them. Sorsogon have this unique whale called Butanding and tourist are going there to see and experience it.
Taiwan, a small country but with a lot of tourism product diversity. Tourists go there to experience leisure farming and for bird watching. Their guides are professional zoologists or ornithologists who really know how to tell stories about the birds.
FN: Any last words?
JB: Local governments in Japan, through the Ministry of Agriculture and prefectural farmers association, supports the farming sector and tries to make farming an attractive economic activity in order to address the depopulation and migration of young people to urban areas. If we can do that, I think we can succeed in changing the landscape of rural areas in the Philippines!
So the government should support initiatives of farming communities such as in developing their farms for agritourism, so they can generate additional source of livelihood in a sustainable manner. If the real value of agritourism is internalized by the farmers and government comes up with right package of support, it will undoubtedly be successful.
Do you have a story or industry event you want us to write about for Farmers Notebook? Email your suggestions to: email@example.com