The Mountain Partnership Secretariat (MPS) together with Slow Food travelled to the Philippines on 7–17 May 2018 to explore the potential of a new pilot on food and tourism in the Philippine Cordillera region, aimed at promoting linkages between high-value mountain products and ecotourism services. The pilot would link the experiences gained with the Mountain Partnership Products (MPP) Initiative with that of Slow Food Travel, a model recently developed by Slow Food to sponsor travel itineraries that promote local culture and gastronomic diversity.
Located in the northern part of the island of Luzon, the Cordillera region encompasses the largest mass of mountains in the Philippines. It is also one of the poorest and most marginalized regions in the country, with the poverty incidence in its Mountain Province being more than twice the national average. The Department of Tourism of the Philippines, a member of the Mountain Partnership (MP) and newly appointed representative of the MP Steering Committee for governments in the Asia-Pacific region, expressed an interest in participating in the ongoing MPP Initiative and invited the MPS and Slow Food to the Cordillera.
Developed in collaboration with Slow Food and with a financial contribution from the Italian Development Cooperation, the MPP Initiative has established a voluntary labelling scheme for mountain products to support small mountain producers from developing countries. The scheme includes value chain improvement, marketing strategy development, specific training programmes, as well as the granting of the MPP narrative label. Special attention is given to shortening the supply chains, conserving agrobiodiversity, incentivising sustainable production processes, ensuring fair compensation to producers and building on synergies between tradition and innovation.
The joint scoping mission included several stops in the Cordillera, including Benguet, Ifugao and Mountain Province, where MPS and Slow Food representatives met with mayors, communities and local stakeholders to learn about the different possibilities and challenges of the region. The mission aimed at profiling villages, sites and mountain products as well as making direct linkages with national and local institutions, local tourism organizations, hospitality operators, civil society organizations and other relevant stakeholders to identify and define the potential of the target region as well as the producers and products with potential for tourism development.
The itinerary further led to visiting local producers of Benguet coffee, rice and other agricultural products of the area. In the remote mountain community of Lusod, Kabayan, the MPS and Slow Food representatives were introduced to an indigenous shrub called “Gipah”, which grows among the wild plants in the mountains and is used by locals to make herbal tea that has some medicinal benefits.
In Hungduan, Ifugao, the MPS and Slow Food visited the Rice Terraces Farmers Cooperative to learn more about different varieties of heirloom rice. In the case of Ifugao, their heirloom rice is planted and harvested once per year, hence it is called “tinawon”, meaning annual. The Ifugao rice terraces were created by the Ifugao ethnic group, a minority community that has lived in the mountains for thousands of years. Due to their outstanding beauty and their deep links with ancient traditions, the Ifugao rice terraces were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995.
Although the “tinaown” rice is organically produced and has a high marketing potential, the farmers that grow it still struggle to survive. The rice farmers expressed their concerns and confusion regarding the changing climate. They explained that in the past, they had 2–3 typhoons per year. Today, 20 typhoons occur in a year, and some native species are not well adapted to such a climate, making growing them more of a risk. Farmers stated that due to out-migration, only the eldest are working in the fields. For many it is still their main source of food and only the surplus can be sold.
Hosted by the Department of Tourism of the Cordilleras, a stakeholder meeting was held at the regional office in Baguio City, Benguet Province, to introduce the MPS and Slow Food, to meet the local stakeholders along the tourism value chain and to start discussing possible collaborations towards ensuring sustainable and inclusive tourism in mountains.
During the meeting, Marie Venus Q. Tan, Regional Director of the Cordilleras of the Philippine Department of Tourism and MP Steering Committee member, said, ”The MPS and Slow Food were visiting the Cordilleras with the vision of developing the territory’s tourism sector around its agriculture and gastronomic heritage.”
Giorgio Grussu from the MPS explained, “A distinguishing feature of the Mountain Partnership is that it operates as the interface between civil society and governments to facilitate the transposition of good practices into national policies. It also disseminates these good practices at an international scale with the aim of improving global development policies in the framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”
Federico Mattei from Slow Food added, “In the vision of Slow Food Travel, tourism is based on the understanding that national and international tourism can act as a leverage for achieving strengthened livelihoods for smallholder farmers, enhancing rural development and aiding in the fight against rural depopulation as well as in the preservation of agrobiodiversity.”
The mission to the Cordillera was an occasion to meet with very active and innovative producers and stakeholders and to discover potential new products. Next steps will include a first assessment of the encountered products to be included in the MPP Initiative and the refinement of methodology for the pilot on food and tourism.