Numbers Don’t Lie

Last year, my wife and I went on a trip to Spain, specifically to visit the wine vineyards of Bodegas Frutos Villar. Situated in the city Valladolid in Castilla y León, the city is where the Pisuerga, Duero, and Esgueva rivers converge. These bodies of water are what help irrigate five famed wine regions — Ribiera del Duero, Rueda, Toro, Tierra de Leon, and Cigales. Valladolid was the capital of Spain during the era of King Philip III in the early 1600s and the center of Spanish political life. The city is teeming with historical sites and old world splendor.

While my wife and I enjoyed the tourist attractions that Valladolid has to offer, we were there for another reason — to learn and experience life as a wine producer. We are great fans of Bodegas Frutos Villar having enjoyed their products for more than 10 years. Folks in the Philippines will recognize their wines under the brand names Moruve, Conde Siruela, and Calderona. Fortunately, the third generation owner of the winery, Jose Luis Villar, is a personal friend and he invited us to observe (and occasionally participate) in the wine production process.

From the bodega’s pedologists (soil scientists) we learned how soil conditions and the weather can affect the yield and character of wines. Alongside their vineyard workers, we experienced how to harvest grapes and extract their nectar using century-old wine presses. By observing the vinter (wine maker), we were able to distinguish the subtle differences between wines aged in French or American oak barrels and those aged in stainless steel casks. With Jose Luis, we observed the bottling process and roamed the dungeons where the wines are aged.

The experience was educational if not enriching. This is the essence of Agritourism.

Agritourism is a category of the tourism industry where visitors are allowed to observe, experience, and immerse themselves in an agriculture-based operation or activity. This includes fisheries. Agritourism has both an educational and leisure dimension to it, making it a powerful tourism product. It is geared for tourists looking to learn about the production of a certain agricultural product while enjoying the historical sites, culture, and gastronomy that the locality has to offer.

Agritourism is a $54.63 billion dollar industry that is seen to grow by 18% from 2019 and 2023. The Philippines is in an ideal position to take market leadership in this segment, what with its 11 million hectares of agricultural land, its deep agricultural history, its tropical climate, diverse selection of agricultural products including exotic fruits, and an English speaking population.

According to the Southeast Asian Regional Center for graduate Study & Research in Agriculture (Searca), the Philippines is presently counted among the world’s top agritourism destinations which also includes Taiwan, Hawaii, Italy, Spain, the US, and Brazil. However, the Philippines has yet to fully exploit the potentials of agritourism. Spain received 4 million agriculture visitors last year while the numbers in the Philippines are so small that the Department of Tourism does not bother to track them.

The good news is that government is well aware of the potentials of agritourism. After all, along with the influx of tourists comes spending on accommodations, food, transportation, and local products. Agritourism is an effective way to fire up the economies of the countryside while augmenting incomes of the rural folk.

In May 2016, the Farm Tourism Development Act (RA 10816) was signed into law. Among its many provisions is to formulate an agritourism master plan; create a Farm Tourism Development Board to advocate, coordinate, and oversee all matters relating to the sector; fill infrastructure gaps; engage in research and development; establish quality standards for participating farms and accredit them; and, of course, promote Philippine agritourism to a worldwide audience, among others.

The law mandates the Department of Tourism (DoT) to take the lead in the initiative, to be supported by the Department of Agriculture and Department of Trade and Industry.

Although the bill was signed into law three years ago, its implementing rules and regulations were only completed last July. Hence, the Farm Tourism Development Board has not yet been organized, neither has the agritourism master plan been written. The DoT hopes to convene the board by the 4th quarter of this year.

I reckon they better get moving on the agritourism master plan while Secretary Bernadette “Berna” Romulo-Puyat still heads the DoT. With 12 years of experience working for the Department of Agriculture, she has the insights of both the farmers and tourism operators. She is in the best position to spearhead a master plan that makes sense to both.

At the heart of the plan is persuading farm operators to add a tourism dimension into their operations. After that, they must be mentored on how to do it right.

Farmers must be taught how to be boutique hoteliers, providing guest with clean rooms, meals, and curated experiences. They must be guided through the process of setting up a digital booking system given that 72% of all hotel bookings are done online. They must be coached on how to provide the basic essentials of hospitality such as first aid medical care, land logistics, and basic security for guests.

Apart from offering food, lodging, and hands-on experience on basic farm chores, successful agritourism establishments around the world offer experiences that go beyond farm work. This can come in the form of cooking classes, workshops on food processing, soap and cosmetic making using farm produce, craft making, and many others. I know of a gentleman farmer who offers his farmstay guests indigenous wellness treatments such as hilot (healing massage) and arbulario (folk healing) services. Uniqueness is key in this field.

Destinations for agritourism can come in the form of a small boutique farms, full-blown haciendas (plantation estates), or industrial-grade plantations like Tadeco’s banana plantations in Davao del Norte. It’s a numbers game. The more farms that offer beds for tourists, the more vibrant the sector will be.

At present, there are only 12 agritourism destinations duly accredited by the DoT. They are: The Kaharian Farm in Lipa, Batangas; Forest Wood Gardens in San Pablo, Laguna; Ato Belen’s Farm in San Pablo, Laguna; Costales Nature Farms in Majayjay, Laguna; Flor’s Garden and Nature Haven in Antipolo City; Domingo Permafarms, also in Antipolo City; Teofely Nature Farms in Silang, Cavite; Chad’s Nature Farm in Batangas; Nurture Farmacy in Amadeo, Cavite; Terra Verde Ecofarm in Maragondon, Cavite; the Moca Family Farm in Padre Garcia, Batangas; and Graco Farms in Pila, Laguna.

Collectively, these accredited farms have a capacity of less than 200 beds for farmstay guests. Although they are concentrated in the Calabarzon area, nationwide expansion will follow after the agritourism master plan is completed.

The number of farm beds in Spain is well over 10,000. This is what it takes to accommodate four million farmstayers annually. The Philippines has a long way to go.

International tourism arrivals to the Philippines reached 7.1 million in 2018. The DoT is targeting 8.2 million visitors this year, and onwards to 12 million visitors by 2022. Agritourism is a category that needs to be exploited, not only to attain our foreign arrival targets but also to put more money in the pockets of our farmers. It is another leg in which our tourism program can run, one that promises a win-win outcome.


Andrew J. Masigan is an economist.