New Zealand to widen presence in Mindanao, Visayas

MANILA With economic potentials outside Luzon, New Zealand Ambassador to the Philippines David Strachan said Kiwis want to strengthen its presence in Mindanao and Visayas as he confirmed that one honorary consul would be appointed in each region.

"Just recently, our prime minister announced the appointment of two honorary consuls for Cebu and (Davao) Mindanao," Strachan told reporters in Makati during a dinner honoring 20th anniversary of New Zealand-based Operation Restore Hope.

"We are strengthening our presence out of Luzon," he said.

No names have been revealed yet since this was announced by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on the sides of the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit in November 2017.

But the New Zealand Embassy in the Philippines said more details would be out by April.

During the interview, Strachan underscored the "good shape" of Manila-Wellington bilateral relations.

"We have more than 1 percent of our population who are Pinoy-Kiwis, so people-to-people exchange have increase immeasurably in the last decade," he said.

"This is an indication that there is a lot of person-to-person contact outside government relations," the envoy pointed out.

At present, Strachan said New Zealand wants to improve cooperation with the country on renewable energy, disaster-risk management and agriculture development.

"That is something that we are building on and we are also investing more on Mindanao, both on the peace process and in assisting the Philippine government to realize the great potential of the food basket Mindanao provides or has potential to provide."

Focus on Mindanao

The embassy said in 2017, approximately NZ$2.3 million or about PHP85 million was provided by the New Zealand Aid Program to different projects in Mindanao.

In addition, the New Zealand government is supporting the development of Mindanao's dairy industry through a NZ$5.3 million or at least PHP193 million PhilippinesNew Zealand Dairy Project which aims to lift local production of fresh milk and farmer incomes.

Among others, Wellington also implements a number of aid program projects in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in the region.

Its total aid contribution to agricultural activities in Mindanao amounted to over NZ$11 million or PHP408 million.

The partnership began in 2011 with a three-year NZ$3.4 million or about PHP126 million-project that supported 100,000 rural internally-displaced people in conflict-affected areas of Maguindanao.

The embassy said this project successfully re-established agriculture and fisheries-based livelihoods, improved disaster resilience and strengthened food security.

With the initial success, the New Zealand government provided another NZ$4.5 million or around PHP167 million in 2015 to a similar three-year project for 50,000 displaced people including decommissioned Moro Islamic Liberation Front combatants in North Cotabato.

The latest project, announced in November 2017 by Rt. Hon. Winston Peters, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, during the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit will provide NZ$3.5 million or PHP130 million to support agribusiness in Maguindanao and North Cotabato building from the previous projects.

This will improve yield through training in climate-resilient farming systems and to enhance the livelihood of more than 15,000 people, the embassy said.

Source: Philippine News Agency