DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/17 November) – New Zealand has vowed to donate US$3million over the next three years to support the peace efforts in conflict-affected areas in Mindanao.
David Strachan, New Zealand ambassador to the Philippines, told a press conference on Wednesday evening at the Marco Polo Hotel here that they want to be involved in providing sustainable livelihood for the combatants and affected families.
He said they were encouraged to help after seeing tremendous development in the peace efforts of the new administration.
“I think, with the peace process taking shape now, it seems a good time to do what we can to support the government’s initiatives since that Mindanao generally is gonna get a lot more attention from government here, and it’s a good time to step up and be even stronger partner in development process because we genuinely committed to addressing poverty levels and helping stabilize the region,” he said.
Strachan said they are involved in the project of the Food and Agriculture Organization in North Cotabato that supports the reintegration of former combatants to the workforce and provides livelihood for the people.
He said this project will support 10,000 households or roughly 52,000 people, and at least 15 barangays in five municipalities of North Catabato.
“This aims to reestablish agriculture and fisheries by these livelihoods and prove resilience for future disasters and strengthen food security,” he said.
A similar program that supports 20,000 households is being implemented in Maguindanao, he said.
Aside from the support to agriculture and the peace process, he said they are also assisting two barangays in Agusan del Sur for the integration of school disaster risk reduction plans to disaster-prone communities.
“Under this project, we’ve trained almost 4,000 students in disaster risk reduction awareness, preparedness, and risk assessment,” he said.
He said that they hope to contribute toward the normalization of the conflict-affected areas in Mindanao.
Stratchan added they are supporting the dairy farm project of the National Dairy Authority in Cagayan de Oro City by providing cows and sharing New Zealand’s dairy technology and expertise.
He said they are also supporting the program of the US Department of Agriculture-funded Agricultural Cooperative Development International-Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance that helps the indigenous peoples develop productive coffee farms.
He said the farm in Cagayan de Oro is one of the 21 focused farms they are helping throughout the country, along with supporting the Misamis Oriental State College of Agriculture and Technology in terms of curriculum development and training of dairy farmers.
At the same time, Steachan said New Zealand is optimistic with the Duterte administration and aims to double bilateral trade by 2025.
“We came very optimistic that we can find a lot more to enhance trade and economic links in this region,” he said.
He said they are building on the strengths between the two nations in terms of trade, economic, and education that are moving “towards a positive direction.”
Banal said the current bilateral trade between Philippines and New Zealand is currently pegged at NZ$1 billion a year.
He said they are mostly buying commodities such as bananas and pineapples from the Philippines and services offered by the country’s business process outsourcing firms to serve NZ’s population of about 4.5 million.
He said the enhanced partnership also benefits the Philippines in terms of industries as they are importing car batteries made by Filipinos.
“One thing notable in New Zealand that not many people are aware of, majority of the car batteries in New Zealand are made from the Philippines,” he said.
Strong people to people links are at the core of the fast growing bilateral relationship, Strachan pointed out.
“Although many New Zealand companies have been actively doing business in Mindanao, we are very excited and still consider Mindanao as an uncharted market with massive potential for more business opportunities,” said NZ Trade Commissioner Hernando Banal II.
The Filipino population in New Zealand has grown in recent years to around 50,000 or around one percent of the population.
The press briefer added that tourist arrivals between both countries have also increased. Last year, around 24,000 New Zealanders traveled to the Philippines and more than 17,000 Filipinos visited New Zealand.
“Filipinos are valued members of the New Zealand. Kiwis appreciate their warm spirit and work ethic. With the availability of Philippine Airline flights from Manila to Auckland, I am optimistic the steady exchange of people will continue to increase,” said Strachan.
Banal said several New Zealand businesses have interests in Mindanao.
He cited Alliance Select which imports New Zealand salmon for smoking in Asia’s newest and most modern salmon and seafood processing and smoking facility in General Santos City. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)