Ricky Lacson, an AIM classsmate, is visiting from Bacolod to go to the Gawad Kalinga (GK) Enchanted Farm in Angat, Bulacan. He describes the place as a social enterprise laboratory where people engage in activities like carabao dairy production, duck processing into burgers and eggs, brewing of local teas, etc. At any time there are 50 local and foreign volunteers, not counting the GK beneficiaries in the area. He is bringing friends of the wife from the US who want to see the place and explore how they can contribute to nation-building. He has been inviting his AIM cohorts to experience the Enchanted Farm.
According to another classmate, Vic Bocaling, a socially conscious retiree from a big manufacturing firm, GK has tied up with a French NGO that teaches not only farming techniques but also how to be business-minded.
They have found most farmers in the Philippines trapped in a subsistence mindset. Enchanted Farm takes young people from the farms and teaches them how to work together to develop economies of scale and turn their combined farms into a productive business. Enchanted Farm considers itself a farm village university where communities live together, study technical courses and do farming, while encouraging visitors to experience life in the farm through different activities such as hiking, bird-watching, campfires, fruit harvesting and overnight stays.
While Enchanted Farm prides itself as a village university to raise social entrepreneurs, it also calls itself a disneyland for social tourism. This is an example of the emerging practice of agri-tourism or farm tourism.
Farm tourism is defined as any business activity that attracts visitors and tourists to farm areas, in an effort to market farm products, or for educational and recreational purposes and enjoyment of related outdoor activities. It involves any agricultural or fishery-based operation or activity that brings to a farm visitors, tourists, farmers and fisher folks who want to be educated and trained on farming and its related activities, while providing a venue for outdoor recreation and accessible family outings.
Farm tourism is where agriculture and tourism intersect, as farms invite the public onto their property for a farm tour to experience the freshness of nature, the leisurely pace, and the healthy and nutritious produce of the farm, as well as to unwind and enjoy the sights. Other farms offer a variety of entertainment, outdoor adventures, shopping, dining experiences, pick/fish and pay, seminars and workshops on farming techniques and overnight accommodation. Farm tourism is a growing industry in other countries as they give respite to those who are from big cities and other cement jungles.
Farm tours offer clients a variety of sceneries from gardens of vegetables, fruits and flowers to parks, animals and forests, with cottages, restaurants, resorts, waterfalls, lakes and fishing grounds. Some offer learning opportunities on farming techniques, or processed products (e.g. wine, honey), organic produce such as vegetables, chicken, livestock and other farm commodities. Other services offered include spas, dining, accommodation and sale of produce/products to increase the profitability of the business.
Farms may offer recreational activities or adventures that will be interesting to all age levels such as zip lines, exhibits, shows, pick-your-own produce or harvest and pay, petting zoos for children, horseback riding, lagoon fishing and trekking, seminars and other outdoor activities during a day tour or overnight stay and longer.
The country is now exploring another fast-growing segment, agri-tourism, and has recently joined the ranks of the world’s top eight agri-tourism destinations. Experts estimate that the Philippines could create a total of 15 million new jobs should the country adopt various reforms geared towards improving the business environment, particularly in the sectors of agriculture and tourism. Also called rural tourism, it is a fast-expanding tourist product and considered a growth industry in Australia, Canada and the US, among others. It has been estimated that 62 million Americans visited farms one or more times in the year 2000, which corresponded to almost 30 percent of the population.
The DBP as a development lending institution is poised to provide an expanded credit window for the development and improvement of the farm tourism sector. The DBP’s Sustainable Agribusiness Financing Programs will help boost the farm tourism industry, assist farm entrepreneurs to become more profitable and provide employment opportunities for our people in the countryside. This is a niche industry that offers multiple benefits to the economy and its growth will literally spur countryside and rural development.
Benel D. Lagua is Executive Vice President at the Development Bank of the Philippines. He is an active FINEX member and a long-time advocate of risk-based lending for SMEs. The views expressed herein are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of his office as well as FINEX.