MANILA -- To introduce new experiences to domestic and international visitors that can be branded "Made in the Philippines", the Department of Tourism (DOT) on Monday launched its Farm Tourism program in Makati City, offering the best farm destinations throughout the country. 

According to DOT Assistant Secretary Frederick Alegre, "It's More Fun in Philippine Farms", is offering 34 farm destinations as of the moment.

"Once we start accreditation, there will be more," he said.

DOT Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo said that a series of activities will be held throughout the country including consultative assemblies of farm tourism stakeholders and exhibits on diverse farm tourism destinations, farm produce, and pasalubong specialty items.

"It's about time that we take steps to put farm tourism at center stage, as the country teems with rich agricultural destinations nurtured by our hard-working farmers, who we now recognize as major stakeholders in an inclusive and sustainable tourism industry," she said. 

DOT said nearly 50 percent of the Philippines' total land area is devoted to agriculture that employs over 17 million Filipinos or 25 percent of the country's total workforce. 

Farm tourism underscores the benefits farmers and the local community may gain from the latest program. 

DOT Undersecretary for Farm Tourism, Silvino Tejada, said the "It's More Fun in Philippine Farms" will provide potential for creating and expanding small and medium enterprises related to promoting rural lifestyle that is "culture-based."

With collated efforts of the DOT, Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and stakeholders, Tejada believes the farm tourism with a "made in the Philippines" identity known worldwide will be made. 

In an interview, Erlinda Tan, president of National Association of Independent Travel Agencies (NAITAS), said the country has an "advantage" from other Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states promoting the same tourism product since the Philippines is already an agricultural country.

"We cannot say the percentage now but it will definitely boom once it gets introduced to the market because we're just starting. Tourists interested will increase," she told reporters. 

There are more than 5,000 tour operators nationwide but Tan assured NAITAS, which is also operating all over the country, will fully support the Farm Tourism. 

For 2018, Alegre confirmed that there will be a "big agenda" line-up for the farm tourism. 

He said DOT will be holding three major promotional activities: the cluster forums and national summit, the cluster fair and national fair, and the search for Farm Tourism Ambassadors among kids and young adults. 

"It's More Fun in Philippine Farms" will be spearheaded by an interim Farm Tourism Development Board that includes representatives from the DOT, DA, DTI and private sector. 

The Board will formulate the National Farm Tourism Strategyic Action Plan, which will be assisted by a technical working group from the Agricultural Training Institute, Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), and financial insitutions like Landbank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines.

Present at the Teaser Launch were Senator Cynthia Villar, author of the Farm Tourism Development Law or the RA 10816, and its House bill sponsor, Congresswoman Sharon Garin. (PNA)