Farming and ecotourism—how will they fare under the new normal?

The recent Sixth National R&D Conference (NRDC) discussed online the issues on food risk and safety, and the impacts of the pandemic on 10 ecotourism sites.

Dr. Belinda F. Espiritu

With the theme, “Pananaliksik at Pagpapaunlad: Daan Tungo sa Pagbangon [Road to Recovery through R&D],” NRDC’s featured programs and technologies are in support of the government’s whole-of-nation approach to recovery from the pandemic. The conference was led by the Office of the Undersecretary for R&D of the Department of Science and Technology.

The two research projects that were presented during the first day of the NRDC were led by members of the National Research Council of the Philippines, the NRCP said in its news release.

Dr. Vachel Gay V. Paller, a member of NRCP’s Division of Biological Sciences, presented the results of her research program on FRESH FARMS Project (Food Risk and Safety Analysis in Agricultural Farms toward Improvement of Control Strategies for Food Safety).

FRESH FARMS provide science-based evidence on the need to address issues concerning farming practices that pose threats to the health of farmers and consumers.

According to the study, to prevent possible adverse consequences to public health, it is highly recommended that proactive steps and measures are implemented as the food supply web has become more extensive in the past recent years.

The study aimed at addressing issues on food contamination, particularly on pathogens and heavy metal contamination of fresh produce. It intended to extend its impact on farm management strategies and marketability of fresh produce improvements, and food safety and public health promotions.

When asked about her plans for the research results to be adopted by many Filipinos, Paller said that good farming practices is very important because it contributes to parasite and microbial transmission.

She added that capacity building in the agricultural sector is also essential.

Paller noted that a laboratory is being built in the University of the Philippines Los Baños to help facilitate and contribute to trace back food contamination to prevent possible outbreak,

“[W]e hope we can have systematic traceability,” she added.

Meanwhile, Dr. Belinda F. Espiritu, a member of Division of Social Sciences of NRCP, presented the results on her research on “Impacts, Lessons Learned, and Ways to go in 10 Ecotourism Sites in the Philippines [Ecotourism in the Time of Covid-19 Pandemic].”

Espiritu noted the high contribution of the tourism industry to the country’s GDP with continuous surge in four straight years from 2016 to 2019, according to Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

But Covid-19 severely disrupted the global economy with international travel bans affecting over 90 percent of the world population and wide-spread restrictions in public gatherings and community mobility, with tourism largely ceased since March last year.

Espiritu’s study sought to find out the impact and lessons learned from the pandemic and ways to go in these 10 ecotourism sites.

They are, from Luzon: Costales Nature Farms, Masungi Geoserve, Pawikan Conservation Center, Donsol Whale Shark Tourism, and Ilagan Sanctuary.

From Visayas: Taklong Island National Marine Reserve and Danao Adventure Park.

From Mindanao: Philippine Eagle Center, Enchanted River, and Lake Sebu.

According to Espiritu, Covid-19 led the cessation of ecotourism operations for some months, resulting in a tremendous loss of income and livelihood, not just for the ecotourism management and staff but also for the tourism-related enterprises.

Another finding was that it showed the resilience in the people’s resorting to urban and rural agriculture, planting of ornamental plants for sale, development of entrepreneurship, being creative in making saleable items, and learning other livelihood skills.

The research also found out that the pandemic provided “rest” for the environment and bioecology, which flourished without human disturbance.

However, there is a constant need for vigilance against the threat of illegal logging and encroachment in protected areas.

Meanwhile, tourism officers realized the lack of a contingency plan in unexpected crises like Covid-19, specifically in having alternative livelihood for the staff and other stakeholders.

There is also a need to be more environment-friendly because people go back to natural resources for their needs in times of global crisis.

Based on the research results, Espiritu recommended that the Department of Tourism’s (DOT) livelihood project and funds should be able to reach the farthest ecotourism sites in the country and lend assistance to tourism-related establishments in coordination with Regional DOT offices.

In addition, rebooting tourism would mean restarting it with focus on sustainability.

Espiritu said that there should be periodic rest of ecotourism sites.

At the same time, she recommended that to regain tourist confidence in traveling, local government units should encourage local tourism and travel bubbles between cities, provinces or countries with managed Covid-19 cases, The NRCP said.

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