Investors optimistic in developing Mindanao

Published by rudy Date posted on September 2, 2010

SEVERAL officials of business groups in Mindanao, during a press conference for the coming 19th Mindanao Business Conference in mid-September, identified three major sectors—mining, energy and agriculture—that the Philippine government must address in order to bring lasting development to the region. Ruben Vegafria, conference director of the 19th Mindanao Business Conference that will be held in Cagayan de Oro, said that a three-month consultation with different regional chamber in Mindanao defined the three sectors of mining, energy and agriculture as important issues for the region’s economic development.

“There will be other matters that will come up during the conference. But because of our consultations, these are our major priorities. The government must look into these more seriously,” Jaime Ralph Paguio, president of the Cagayan de Oro Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Oro Chamber), said.

The business conference aims to establish several resolutions, plans and programs that will ensure a more “serious way” of achieving economic and financial development in Mindanao. The resolutions that will be reached in the Mindanao conference will be submitted to President Benigno Aquino 3rd during the Philippine Business Conference in October.

“We had an energy shortage during the first trimester of this year. We are hoping that we will also gather enough investors in energy generation [like putting up power plants in Mindanao],” Paguio said.

In a statement, Linda Boniao, assistant regional director of the Department of Trade and Industry Region X said, “the energy sector proposals are for strategic Mindanao-wide projects with a minimum value of P1 billion.”

“The biggest project would have a generating capacity of 200 megawatts,” she added.

Among the non-energy projects from five Mindanao sub-regions were proposals for marine and freshwater fish farming, coco decorticating, palm oil processing, island resort development and moringa (malunggay) production.

Paguio also said that “processing and manufacturing of products” also “require energy” because Mindanao is not only looking into its production mechanisms but also in the exporting of processed and manufactured products.

He added that Mindanao is fast becoming the “bread basket for the Philippines” as he reiterates the need for the development of the region’s agriculture sector.

Government support

Farmers in Mindanao must receive support from the government in order for them to boost their production, he said, adding that the region is looking into “more diversity of crafts considering the environment and climatic change” as it enters into other areas of agribusiness such as mariculture—a specialized branch of aquaculture involving the cultivation of marine organisms for food and other products in the open ocean, an enclosed section of the ocean or in tanks and ponds filled with seawater.

Paguio explained that some parts in the Northern Mindanao are currently cultivating milkfish (bangus) not in fishponds but in fish cages in the sea.

“We need to develop agribusiness’ production efficiency,” he said, adding that “corporate farming” is another aspect they are willing to traverse.

“Lots of corporations, for example, are supporting poultry in Mindanao after having found out that there are large areas there available for [poultry-building] and that poultry from [the region] are decease-free,” Paguio said.

He added that large properties are being developed in Mindanao for poultry and agriculture.

But Paguio reiterated that there is a need to balance between exporting such products to foreign countries and ensuring food security for the country.

“Both [export and food security] are very important. We should be very mindful of the food needs of our country before exporting . . . unless export price is very substantial that it will even help in securing our food needs,” he explained.

Vegafria, on the other hand, agreed with Paguio and said that food security and export are “both very important [and] should be addressed.”

He admitted that private corporations play a major role in investing in food production since the region has several export products like banana, mango and pineapple.

“In Eastern Visayas, there are huge investments in agriculture,” he said.

Peace initiatives

Meanwhile, lawyer Miguel Varela, chairman emeritus of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), highlighted the importance for the government to “push peace initiatives” in Mindanao.

“Let us hope he [Aquino] will be able to succeed especially in peace efforts. It is important for Mindanao for government to start peace negotiations,” he said, adding though that there is a “renewed confidence” to the present administration as the President had received a clear and large mandate from the region during the 2010 presidential elections.

Decades-old conflict between Muslim secessionist rebels in Mindanao and the Philippine government has placed the region in the world’s war-torn area.

The Mindanao Business Conference is being supported by the PCCI, the Cagayan de Oro government, the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) program and the Mindanao Development Authority.

The USAID’s GEM program operates throughout Mindanao with a special focus on the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and other conflict-affected areas in the region.

Among its components are infrastructure development, workforce preparation, business growth, governance improvement and former combatant reintegration. –BERNICE CAMILLE V. BAUZON REPORTER, Manila Times

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