The Yamang Bukid Farm has leveled up its sustainable agrotourism advocacy in Puerto Princesa City and the province of Palawan by hosting a Farm Tourism 101 crash course that sparked new ideas among farmers wanting to improve their livelihood activities and to diversify income, entrepreneurs searching for fresh opportunities in agriculture, curious university students, resort operators, tourism sector stakeholders, and other participants.

A first of its kind to be held in the sought-after farm in Barangay Bacungan on March 15, 2019, the crash course provided insights regarding the basics of agrotourism to nearly half a hundred participants.

Former tourism secretary Dr. Mina Gabor, who is currently the president of the International School of Sustainable Tourism (ISST), was the main speaker at the event. She was joined by Mark Tinao, a lecturer at the De La Salle Araneta University and head of the ISST business development, and Raymund Aaron, the “banana chief” of Villa Socorro Farm in Pagsanjan, Laguna province.

Nationwide, farm development is sprouting like mushrooms. Landowners are going back to the basics of organic farming, looking for ways and means to reach the full potentials of their properties as crop producers and as agrotourism sites.

They did not only listen, they interacted as well, sharing their own experiences and encouraging others with their best practices.

Dr. Gabor, the country’s top farm tourism advocate, said there is no competition in farm tourism. If there is anything, the more the better to bring extra and significant income not only to the local farmers but also the communities where they belong.

To achieve sustainable farm tourism in the city and province, Dr. Gabor shared these important points on how to establish a strong farm tourism destination:

BE THE BEST. Farmers are very special people, especially for an agricultural country like the Philippines. But because of the poor mentality besetting many Filipinos — the mentality that children who are not gifted intellectually deserve to have blue-collar jobs such as farmers, fishermen, and other laborers — many lives in mediocrity. Dr. Gabor challenged the participants to change this perspective. “The farm today is actually the bridge to a longer life, and many people will make a difference once they get into the farm business.”

STATE YOUR PURPOSE. Since farm tourism is becoming a trend nowadays, an operator must know the whys of his farm. What is your farm’s reason for existing? What is the farm all about? “[Farm Tourism] is the flavor of the month, but we must make it different for everyone,” Gabor said. One must understand the industry and its technical know-how.

VISUALIZE YOUR FUTURE. How do you see your farm in three years, five years, down the road? Think big! But do not forget the many factors that need to be considered in this kind of business, e.g., manpower, water supply, climate and season, land titling, delivery, necessary training, etc. All these are crucial and need to be included in one’s timetable, in order to see potentialities as well as to prepare for possible problems before they happen.

TAKE AN INVENTORY. Go around the farm and know its strengths and weaknesses. What is endemic in the locality? What plants and vegetation can grow in a certain type of soil and topography? The location and its surroundings also pose specific benefits as well as challenges. List all these down. Gabor mentioned that farm tourism is a community-based program. And if it has to take the help of the community and the local similar businesses for a tourist package to be made available for consumers, then partnerships must be welcomed.

PROFILE YOUR CUSTOMERS. “Know where the clients are from and know their needs. What motivates them to come to a place? What are the characteristics of these people? What do they love to eat? What should we do to improve our customer base?”

WRITE DOWN GOALS AND OBJECTIVES. These should provide the means of how to achieve the mission and the vision of the company. Remember also to make a program that will include children. Tie up with schools and teach children organic farming, and such.

ASSESS YOUR RESOURCES. When resources are not enough, plans and programs won’t be completed. Make sure that the funding for specific projects is sufficient. Farm tourism encourages self-sufficiency and sustainability that’s why it is important to list down one’s dreams and visions. “Make a list of all the things you want to do. Next, ask, can I do this?” Dr. Gabor challenged. She emphasized the critical importance of budget and manpower. “What will I do to keep my people? What will I do to make them happy? What will I do to make this thing happen?”

TAKE ACTION. This must be very specific steps to ensure a successful operation.  A farm tourism operator must look around 360 degrees and assess the totality of the needs of the farm. Know the necessary government permits and documents that must be accomplished and make time for them. Know what roadblocks there are that hinder success.

KEEP SCORES. Check to see if the goals set are being achieved. Have a scorecard that allows for weekly, monthly, and yearly progress monitoring.

MAKE STRATEGY A HABIT. Finally, Dr. Gabor likened a business to a car, “a business without a plan is like a car without a steering wheel. Without strategy, we’re like a car without direction.” She encouraged the course participants to hold regular meetings that involve all stakeholders in their planning and assessment, so that everybody is aware of what strategies to implement. Also, assess mistakes and correct them. Gabor finished with this reminder: “A plan is a living document. It is not for the museum.”

“Nakaka-challenge. Nagkaroon na naman kami ng mga bagong iisipin para sa aming farm,” said Cesar and Aida Caabay, after listening to Dr. Gabor.

The Caabays are farm owners from Tumarbong, Roxas, northern  Palawan. Cesar is the president of a farmers’ association called Biltar. It is his personal dream to develop their one-hectare property into a farm tourism destination, “as a small version of The Yamang Bukid Farm,” he said.

At present, the Caabays are now receiving a few guests on their farm and are also experimenting on growing special fruits, such as blueberries, strawberries, and grapes. They are also supplying vegetables and other crops to some nearby resorts.

More questions and answers, as well as inspirational stories and worthy suggestions, were exchanged among Dr. Gabor, the speakers, and the participants as the lecture proceeded towards late in the afternoon that day. Dreams and visions about farm tourism and how to flourish it in the city and province were obviously ignited in their hearts and minds.

With growing cooperation and partnership with the City Tourism Office (CTO), there is a promise that farm tourism is sure to bloom.

The new advocates left The Yamang Bukid Farm armed not just with the knowledge of necessary technicalities, but with a kindled excitement that will fuel them to pursue a business that not only aims to acquire profits, but to nurture the environment, to provide more employment, to touch other people’s lives, to supply a venue for rest and recreation, and furthermore, to help the nation in sustainable development.

Just like what The Yamang Bukid Farm is living for.