For years, the competitive export market has looked kindly on the Philippines' fresh and processed agricultural exports like mangoes, coconut products, pineapples and carageenan. Now, according to the Department of Tourism, the Philippines may yet corner another niche in the agricultural export market using its organic fruits and vegetables. This is due to the growing demand in Japan, the country's second largest trading partner, for organic food.
"The increasing popularity of the healthy lifestyle in Japan will definitely attract the specialized market segment of vegetable and fruit meisters (or experts) to the Philippines," Tourism Secretary Ace Durano said. He explained that as the Japanese move toward even more healthy eating options, they also continue to look for high quality agricultural producers.
And they do not want to just eat the produce, they want to go to farms to see how the food is grown, thus opening up the possibility of the country becoming an agro-tourism site. Japanese meisters are now reportedly eyeing the Philippines, one of the largest agricultural producers in Southeast Asia, for its potential in agri-tourism. Eduardo Jarque Jr., undersecretary for tourism planning and promotions, also noted that the Philippines has a wealth of tropical produce that would definitely entice fruit and vegetable meisters.
"These products would enhance their activities and help promote healthy living," Jarque said. With the advocacy of further promoting agri-tourism and organic farming in the country, the DOT has recently welcomed representatives from the Vegetable and Fruit Meister Association of Japan to choice farms, and let them experience first-hand sustainable organic farming in the country.
The Vegetable and Fruit Meister Association aims to foster food culture and advocate healthy eating habits by training specialists, and to inspire their fellow Japanese to practice and adhere to using only organic agricultural produce.
Stories on Philippine organic agriculture were to be published in the association's magazine entitled Yasai Tsushin, to promote not only the tropical fruits and vegetables but also the country's agri-tourism destinations, attractions and festivities.
"Agriculture has been the traditional backbone of the economy, and there is synergy with tourism. The Philippines can also be known for agri-tourism, since here in our country is a whole selection of quality organic products," Durano noted.
According to the DOT, Xavier University's College of Agriculture and the Sustainable Agriculture Center in Cagayan de Oro City; the Del Monte Farms in Bukidnon; and mariculture in Misamis Oriental, were among the featured institutions.
Local experts from these institutions had demonstrated to the meisters the procedures in growing vegetables and fruits, as well as various ways of preparing vegetable dishes and recipes. Dr. Floro Dalapag of the College of Agriculture in Xavier University presented the different preparations of rice cookies, papaya preserves and corn coffee to the Japanese fruit and vegetable meisters.
Montegelo Agri-tourism Resort Complex, owned by plant pathologist Dr. Faustino Obrero, featured its own specialty which is cactus soup, an exotic soup rich in vitamins and minerals. Obrero's establishment is also famous for its facilities for students, families and long-stay tourists. "These trips cater to a niche market of travelers who prefer to take more time in immersing themselves in the culture of a specific town, or a farming community. The tourism department is bent in promoting these more," Jarque stressed.
Highlighting the recent trip of the meisters was their visit to Camiguin Island during the Lanzones Festival, which was marked with colorful street dancing and sampling of native Lanzones, said Benito Bengzon, head for DOT Team Japan. The island, known for its abundant supply of raw materials used as organic fertilizers and fungicides, also has a rich and diverse flora and fauna.
"The tour was capped with a visit to the Gardens of the Malasag Eco-village, where the colorful culture of the various tribes in Northern Mindanao can be experienced first-hand," he added. The Philippines, however, is still in its initial stages of organic farming, with most farmers still embracing traditional methods that favor chemical-based fertilizers. There are already 35,000 organic farms on 14,140 hectares of land with a total share of just 0.12 percent of total agricultural lands, Bengzon said.
There is great potential for growth, however. The US Department of Agriculture said in a report that while organic agricultural production is limited, it is steadily growing at a pace of between 10 and 20 percent a year. It was only in 2005 that President Macapagal-Arroyo had signed Executive Order No. 481 entitled "Promotion and Development of Organic Agriculture in the Philippines," in a bid to further boost organic farming in the country.