What is agritourism? The word “agritourism” is a mash-up of both “agriculture” and “tourism”. Fundamentally, agritourism involves an agriculturally based operation or activity that draws visitors to a farm, ranch or any natural site, like pineapple plantations, orchid farms and bee farms, for outdoor recreational activities, education, shopping or even lodging.
Many people are now looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life to get back to nature, resulting in agridestinations gaining popularity among tourists. Besides, amid various food scandals, many people have a growing interest in tasting naturally cultivated foodstuffs and finding out more about food production from farmers
Agritourism is relatively high on the agenda of the Department of Tourism (DOT). In the meantime, the DOT has accredited 14 additional agritourism destination, bringing the total number of destinations to 28, since 2011. To be honest, I was not convinced that tourists would be interested in spending time on a farm. But, surprisingly, I have changed my mind.
I mentioned in one of my earlier columns that some three years ago, my friend Arnel Bacer from Camarines Norte and I bought 8,000 coffee trees from Nestlé, which were intercropped with coconut trees in the hilly area of the farm. I added there are now two fish ponds for tilapia, extended rice and vegetables areas, and a resort-type development.
In mid-April I spent one week on the farm and did things I was not expected to do. While watching the activities on the farm and inspecting the development of the coffee trees, I covered almost virgin grounds by hiking on the surrounding mountains, visiting waterfalls and caves and walking down rivers as there were no trails. After four to six hours of up and downhill trekking, it was nice to return to the farm, swim in the pool, grill some food and enjoy wine or beer.
I am now fully convinced that farming and tourism create synergies, where the natural beauty of the region, its cultural richness and vibrant communities can blend with farm activities, especially when a variety of farm products are grown, and the emphasis is on biointensive farming and biodiversity.
However, a few prerequisites need to be borne in mind when venturing into agritourism:
- Farm-to-market roads are needed so tourists can get to the farms and appreciate the beauty of nature and immerse in farming activities (this needs to be discussed with the local government units or LGUs);
- Tour guides are needed—without the group of young people guiding me, finding routes to take and walking around with bolos (knives) to cut the way through nature, I would not have made it; and a minimum of English is needed so tour guides and tourists can communicate;
- Destruction of natural resources needs to be stopped —while trekking through the mountains, I saw trees being cut for charcoal production; I am talking about hard wood, and I am referring to substantial quantities of charcoal that are leaving the mountains on a daily basis; denudation of the mountains follows and leads to mudslides and landslides (this needs to be addressed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in cooperation
Jointly with the government, we will try to make the Bacer Farm one of the must-see agritourism destinations in the Philippines.