Farm tourism with a view
LAKE SEBU, South Cotabato, Philippines — Tourists who have been to Lake Sebu are often left with the impression that the highland town is a piece of heaven on earth — enchanting, serene and chilly.
Perched 700 meters above sea level, Lake Sebu is home to three lakes, the biggest of which is the 354-hectare Lake Sebu, from where the town got its name; seven falls; and T’nalak, a fabric meticulously handwoven by female T’boli natives from abaca fibers.
Around the placid lake at its very heart — also tagged as South Cotabato province’s summer and cultural capital — are dozens of resorts for tourists and corporate, or private gatherings.
Farther away from the resorts, a 20-minute uphill drive on paved road, Sebul Farm has been carving a name in the niche farm and agritourism market.
Straddling a 4-ha property in Barangay Tasiman, it has a vantage point of Lake Sebu and its fish cages, and the rolling mountains that embrace Mt. Apo, the country’s tallest peak; Mt. Matutum, South Cotabato’s landmark mountain; and Mt. Parker, where Lake Maughan, the “Crown Jewel of the South” in neighboring T’boli town, is nestled.
“The view from here is priceless, that’s why I love it here,” says William Sy, owner of Sebul Farm.
As many people plant more these days owing to the coronavirus lockdowns, Sy believes that farm tourism will touch point in the industry. Since their farm can attract both plant and nature lovers, he’s pinning his hopes on the potentials of farm tourism as new coronavirus disease restriction eases.
Sebul Farm was acquired just five years ago by Sy’s son, Joanes Paulos, a commercial pilot who is based in Vietnam, and has since soared to become Lake Sebu’s landmark for organic farm tourism, peculiar from all the rest since most, if not all, of the local destinations have been propelled by the lakes, waterfalls and heritage of the T’boli tribe.
In the T’boli language, “sebul” means “mix,” or “everything is there,” which the elder Sy is taking to heart by cultivating assorted crops and raising livestock.
Although relatively new, Sebul Farm has been accredited by the Department of Tourism (DOT) as a farm tourism site and by the Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) as an agricultural learning center.
Organic cacao farming is the flagship of the farm, which is also planted with coconuts, coffee and other fruit-bearing trees, such as durian, mangosteen and marang; and spices and herbs, such as red chili, mint, stevia and tarragon.
Native chickens and hito (catfish) are also grown.
Sy does not sell his cacao beans but processes them into tablea, cocoa powder, wine, cider vinegar and tea. He is also planning to go into chocolate production.
“Nothing is wasted here as I have cashed in on the possible products that can be processed from cacao. The money in farming is actually in the value-added products,” Sy told the Inquirer.
Sebul Farm produces brewed coffee, turmeric powder with stevia, pure honey, hot chili oil and even the fruit fly attractant potion for pest control.
It sells dried herbs, such as mint, tarragon, laurel leaves mixed with black peppercorn, and even health supplements, such as serpentina and mangosteen capsules.
All of these are the brainchild of Sy, who completed a business degree as a working student in General Santos City. He ventured into palay, corn and fish trading, and restaurant business during his younger years.
As an agricultural learning site, Sebul Farm hosts seminars where Sy, who is married to Mayette, a retired flight attendant, shares his knowledge on cacao farming and processing techniques. Up to 30 people can be accommodated in one seminar.
Sharing accommodations include A-houses, so called because they are patterned after letter “A.”
Guests can also enjoy a dip in the cold infinity pool with a view of the horizon.
Sebul Farm placed second during the first regional edible ornamental landscaping contest conducted by the regional offices of the DOT and the ATI, in partnership with Villar Foundation Inc. in 2018.
Sy encourages farmers not to sell but process their products “because that’s where the big money is.”
As an example, he said a sack of corn could fetch only P500 when sold to a trader, but it could turn in P5,000 when processed into corn bits for snacks, or “pulutan” (bar chow or appetizer).
“Farmers should harvest and process their crops. They need to be innovative and imaginative. Even if their harvest is small, their income will become bigger if they give their product more value-added,” Sy said. “The problem with most small farmers is that they want instant cash so they sell their crops to the traders right after harvest.”
Sebul Farm provides a stable livelihood to at least seven families who till the farm, or attend to guests.
Jose Rudy Muyco, the “cacao doctor” at Sebul Farm, said the place had been sharing cacao farming and processing techniques for free to natives who were willing to learn but couldn’t pay for the training cost.
“The farm’s mature cacao plants cover a hectare and we are continuously planting the crop as a showcase to cacao farmers and visitors. In total, we have planted more than 3,000 cacao trees,” he said.
Sebul Farm has also been accommodating on-the-job-trainees from lowland agricultural schools, and teaching them not just the production and processing of cacao but also other crops.
Sy considers Sebul Farm the crown of his passion for farming. It gives him and his wife spiritual and financial solace in their twilight years even as they share their cozy place for others to learn farming, or to simply to chill from the rigors of urban living.
“Life here is peaceful and simple. While doing the thing I love, I’m also helping people and that matters a lot,” Sy said.
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