Malaysia eyes oil palm, tourism ventures in Mindanao

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/03 July) — The Malaysian government is building a stronger trade and investment partnership with South Cotabato, with the planned entry of ventures in palm oil production and tourism as part of its bilateral agreement under the Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Philippines-East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA).

In a recent visit, Malaysian Ambassador to the Philippines Dato Seri Datu Hajj Dr. Ibrahim Saad expressed that his government is willing to bring Malaysian investors in South Cotabato to engage in the multi-million dollar palm oil production.

“Mindanao especially South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat soil are good planting areas for oil palm, according to study,” Saad said, adding he will “seriously  encourage” his country’s investors in going into palm oil production in South Cotabato.

Initial talks with the Department of Agriculture and Department of Environment and Natural Resources were made signifying their intention in the palm oil business.

According to the Office of the Provincial Agriculture, about 5,000 hectares of land in Koronadal and at least 10,000 hectares in Lake Sebu are ready for oil palm.

In South Cotabato, aside from Koronadal, the towns of Norala and Tantangan are also suitable for oil palm, Pat Busarang, Provincial Agriculture Technologist, stressed.

Busarang added that some of the oil palm trees in these areas are already three years old and farmers can start harvesting in the next three years.

Liza Lacuit, high value crop program coordinator, said that the province has 1229.38 hectares planted with oil palm. There are located in Koronadal and in six towns with Norala having the biggest area planted.

Lacuit said that of the planted areas, 405 hectares are already starting to produce palm oil fruits and at least 19,144 metric tons were harvested early this year, benefiting 419 farmers.

With 83 farmers in Norala involved in the venture, the town has a total planted area of 387.83 hectares and has harvested 3324 metric tons of palm oil.

In Tantangan 210 farmers are managing this agro-industrial plantation with a total production of 990 metric tons so far.

But Lacuit said most of the large plantations in South Cotabato are privately owned because the government does not offer technical assistance for this crop.

With Malaysia producing 45% of the world’s palm oil, trailing only Indonesia, the provincial government believed that offering lands for oil palm plantations would help improve technology for the production of this crop.

Like the province of Sabah, the largest producer of crude palm oil contributing over 30 percent to Malaysia’s total income from exports, South Cotabato is also eyeing to share its agricultural lands to oil palm ventures.

Meanwhile, with the launching of the new tourism brand of BIMP-EAGA “Equator Asia,” Malaysia expressed its intention to bring in people to South Cotabato and Mindanao.

“The Philippines has not spent their tourism resources fully to gain income from it. Some tourist destinations are not really established yet,” the ambassador observed.

Many tourism areas lack good infrastructure and have problems on security, he added.

“Ensure good access through infrastructure and just prove that it is peaceful here, then tourism gains will come in,” he said.

He, however, noted that “not all areas in Mindanao have problems with security. Like in South Cotabato and the South Central Mindanao, I came here to prove them wrong that problems in peace and order in Mindanao are not really true.”

“Push for the peace treaty as soon as possible because peace in Mindanao is peace in your country,” he pointed out.

The Malaysian official recently visited Jolo, Tawi-tawi and other parts of Mindanao, but the Philippine government did not allow him to go to Basilan over security concerns caused by the disappearance of a Jordanian journalist and two Filipino crewmembers. (MindaNews)