BENGUET -- The annual celebration of Baguio City’s Panagbenga Festival has catapulted this town into a Flower Capital.
Aside from strawberries, the municipality of La Trinidad is also known for its flower growing villages where eco-farm tourism is being developed as a complimentary destination outside Baguio.
The towns of La Trinidad, Atok, Tublay, Kapangan, Kibungan and Buguias have been producing cut flowers sold in several local markets around the country.
Barangay Bahong in La Trinidad is dubbed as the famous flower growing community declared as the Rose Capital of the Philippines in 1998 by then Department of Agriculture Secretary William Dar.
About half of the total 410 hectares of land in Bahong are intended for agricultural use particularly for cut flower production with roses not the only flower produced because farmers have ventured into the production of chrysanthemums and anthuriums.
Bahong is considered as the center of the local cut-flower industry in this part of Benguet with cut-flower-producing barangays of this town, such as Ambiong and Alno.
A steady supply of flowers comes from Valley cut flower farmers especially during the flower festival season where the demand increases.
The Municipal Agriculture office revealed strawberries and cut flowers are still remain top agricultural products.
Growers supply flowers in Metro Manila, Ilocos Region, and Bicol Region.
The flower production of the province reached 24, 862, 467 MT for the year of 2011. La Trinidad has the highest contribution with 18, 876, 650 MT of cut flower production.
Chrysanthemums pegged as the highest production among the flowers with 15, 833, 455 MT. Fiji flowers are like chrysanthemum because of its resemblance but differ in their varieties of colors.
For 2012, 31, 757, 481 MT of flowers were produced by the province with chrysanthemum still having the highest production 13, 273, 223 MT and La Trinidad having the highest among the municipalities with 17, 221, 990 MT of flowers.
Cut flower farmers here sell their products at the Dimasalang area in Manila. Benguet supplies heavily to these open markets, aside from highland vegetables.
Usual tourism destinations in urban cities may no longer attract curiosity from adventure seekers thus the Department of Tourism in the Cordillera is now bent on developing farm destinations – where visitors may experience nature and be educated on the realm of agriculture.
But this is easier said than done.
Willy Padio, manager of the Benguet Fresh Multipurpose Cooperative, said his group has been planning to develop a cluster of flower plantations for farm tourism but cannot locate an area suitable for the purpose since their members are scattered too.
Padio said cooperative members are in Alno, Alapang, Shilan and even in Sto. Tomas, Baguio City as well as in Tublay and Kapangan, members have flower farms in Bahong otherwise lack funding to develop cement foot paths that would link their farms to the main road.
Unlike roses which continuously blooms, chrysanthemums are being harvested every four months, Padio said the cycle of flower propagation renders some months with no blooms “We need to study how to make our farms continuously blooming if we will open these to tourist because we don’t like to disappoint visitors also.”
The cooperative has a stall at the Dangwa station in Manila where their flower produce from the members are sold to florists.
With the growing number of tourists visiting the flower plantations barangay officials crafted an Ordinance institutionalizing rules and regulations for the management of tourist attractions in Bahong.
Tourists are now required to pay an environment fee of P20 per head at the Barangay Tourism Office. The rate for students and senior citizens is P15 per individual. For foreign tourists, admission fee is P50 per person.
An additional tour guide fee of P200 for local tourists with a 10-member group will also be imposed. The rate for foreign tour guide fee per group of 10 persons is P300.
Aside from the regulatory fees, tourists who wish to pick flowers from the private farms will have to pay fees at the discretion of the owner of the farm.
The fees collected will be used to fund barangay programs on clean and green aside from tourism related activities.
In the recent years, visitors have flocked to Bahong to marvel the beauty of the local blooms with residents opening the plantations to visitors.
The thrill of flower picking and the magnificent view from the deck excites everyone who visits the farms.
Barangay Kagawad Jantor Morales said this week 300 visitors are scheduled to visit the flower farms. In cases where visitors travel by bus, the local jeepney association has to ferry the visitors either from Km.6 in front of the Provincial Capitol or from Baguio City since the existing barangay road cannot accommodate large vehicles such as busses, “Of course ferrying the visitors is additional income for the jeepney drivers.”
Today as an emerging tourism destination, a system is sought to be set in place both for residents and visitors alike aimed to make barangay Bahong into a flower destination for all.