Agri-tourism: The food aspect will sustain it
FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel Abalos (The Freeman) - March 23, 2020 - 12:00am

Until 2019, despite the wars, chaos, threats, etc. obtaining all over the world, global tourism continued to grow.  In fact, in the country, despite the Bohol’s Abu Sayyaf incident (where the paranoia that no one is safe pervaded), tourism continued to flourish. 

This fact was confirmed by the biennial Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report (TTCR) Survey which reported that there are over a billion tourist arrivals globally every year.

Today, however, these numbers are gone. The three commas in a billion simply evaporated.  

If by definition, we consider someone a tourist if he or is she is not in his or her own permanent residence, forget about such reference. Due to lockdowns and quarantines brought about by the coronavirus threat, they are not tourists anymore, they are simply trapped and have simply become COVID19’s hostages. 

So that, what we are seeing right now are empty hotels and theme parks as well as hangared aircrafts and garaged tour buses.  Undeniably, tourism is dead, for now, and tour guides are penniless.

However, if we look intently into the tourism industry we might be seeing something that, probably, we can give emphasis on. This is farm or agri-tourism. Why? This is an initiative that has two sides in it. That of food production and tourism.  In fact, primarily, this is food production. The tourism side is just an add-on or an added value.

Therefore, in an epidemic or a pandemic like what is obtaining today, while tourism revenue might be practically nil, the food production side continues. Therefore, it shall continue to thrive. So that, given the current predicament, let us, therefore, take a look at this two-pronged approach more on the food production side for the time being.

More or less, one-third of our labor force is in the agriculture sector. Considering that it only contributes about 11% to our Gross Domestic Product, agriculture happens to be the most inefficient sector of our economy. Worse, it might be deserted in the future as, according to Food and Agricultural Organization, farmers “migrate to urban areas seeking for better paying jobs.”  Some, in fact, are working as mere household helpers because, to most of them, these jobs have given them better rewards than that of the farms.

Yes, we’ve seen migration for decades now. Rampantly, rural areas are abandoned.  Accordingly, the country’s highly urbanized cities are congested. With the advent of modern communication technology, it is even becoming more popular. The search for better lives has always been their common denominator.We called it rural exodus or rural flight.

Indeed, while the availability of real-time communication benefitted the majority of the country’s population in many ways, it has also somehow hastened rural exodus. Consequently, congestion in the urban areas is sickening and inactivity in the countryside is deafening. Worse, both situations have added concerns on criminality in the urban areas and non-productivity in the countryside. 

Not only that. Now that they are packed in huge cities’ slum areas, when a pandemic as worse as COVID19 comes, they will be the most vulnerable of all. Obviously, because social distancing is just too impossible.

So that, as COVID19 continues to sow fear, most rural folks will definitely think twice and stay where they are if opportunities to earn are present and reachable. When all the necessities like food, shelter, clothing as well as health and school facilities are available they shall surely stay put. Or, some of those packed in the slum areas might even opt to go back home. Thus, having undertakings that directly relate to what they are doing right now or what they used to do that may uplift their well-being might be tenable. One of these could be agri-tourism.

Notably too, we now have a tourism czar in Bernadette Romulo-Puyat who used to be an undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture.  Absolutely, we have someone calling the shots at the tourism department who has greater understanding of this initiative. 

Moreover, if the local government units will support this initiative, then its funds may be realigned to focus more on infrastructure development. A farm-to-market road for farmers can be the most convenient access for tourists too. Likewise, if our military and the national police will be able to address peace and order issues in the countryside, then, probably, agri-tourism will have better chances to flourish. 

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