As the world continues to reopen two years after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Philippines is looking forward to once again welcoming both foreign and domestic travelers to its shores.
The Department of Tourism (DoT)’s 2022 goals of “Sustainable, resilient, inclusive PH tourism” is the perfect time to further integrate agriculture in its many forms, from agritourism to more agriculture-centric souvenirs in the country’s tourism industry.
There is a worldwide push towards sustainability, one that a self-proclaimed agricultural country such as the Philippines should not only be taking advantage of, but leading. The private dining sector has a dedicated farm-to-table market, with chefs and restaurateurs working directly with farmers to ensure a sometimes constant, sometimes seasonal, high quality crops.
There is already a small but steadily growing agritourism industry, with farms offering various tourism activities such as farm tours, pick-and-pay, and overnight stays. Island hopping sometimes comes with a meal of fish and seafood freshly caught by local fishers.
Many souvenir items directly rely on agricultural products, though this can always be refined. For example, some local woven materials use polyester instead of traditional fabric, though this trend is slowly changing as more producers realize that nowadays, tourists are willing to pay a higher price for the latter if it means supporting an artist and their craft.
But despite these endeavors, farmers and fishers remain in the background, earning a pittance, not considered a major aspect of the tourism industry. Granted, most of them aren’t involved in tourism, but many of them could be.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), tourism made up 12.7 percent of the country’s GDP in 2019 while the agriculture industry contributed 8.82 percent (It’s been on a constant decline since 2015, though it did rise to 10.18 percent in 2020). This is a steep drop from the 43.9 percent it comprised in 1990 and the 35.7 percent the decade before that. I couldn’t find the numbers for 2000, but it had jumped down to 8.6 percent in 2010.
The industry is in rapid decline. Whether we like it or not, it is in need of expansion. Farming and fishing have become undesirable and are often equated with poverty. There needs to be a systemic push to uplift the lives of industry practitioners, especially the marginalized, in order to attract new blood and bolster the country’s food security.
One small but potentially significant way to go about this is to strengthen its link to industries that many people forget are intertwined with agriculture such as fashion and tourism.
It helps that sustainability and provenance is in fashion nowadays, so there are multiple opportunities for the tourism sector to engage with farms and farmers. It can also help encourage hyperlocality, which in turn potentially enrich local communities and can lessen carbon emissions associated with the transportation of goods.
If we get to know our farmers more and make it a point to collaborate with them, we are increasing the chances of those involved to increase their profits. Isn’t that a win for everyone?