THE Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) said it is looking at developing additional ecozones in 18 areas in Mindanao.

In a Thursday briefing, PEZA Director General Charito B. Plaza said these new ecozones will focus on agriculture, agro-forestry, bio-energy and fishing.

The proposed zones will be located in Bukidnon, Agusan del Norte, Davao City, Sulu, Sultan Kudarat, Surigao del Sur, Misamis Oriental, Lanao del Norte, Davao del Norte, North Cotabato, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Agusan del Sur, Basilan, Tawi Tawi, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao.

“These are areas rich in agriculture, aquaculture (and) agroforestry,” Ms. Plaza said.

She said the investment promotion agency is also looking at setting up a refining ecozone in one of the proposed areas.

She added that the new ecozones are an opportunity to develop special areas dedicated to halal food production.

“(Doing this) could boost the country’s bid for a share of the world’s halal market, estimated at more than $3 trillion. This will also benefit the domestic market in (developing) halal-certified products.” She estimated the part of the population patronizing halal food at over 10 million.

According to Ms. Plaza, the development of more ecozones in the countryside will attract more investment, create jobs and develop millions of hectares of idle land.

Ms. Plaza has urged local government units in Mindanao, national agencies and Congress to file resolutions asking President Rodrigo R. Duterte to declare idle public land in the south as suitable for development into special economic zones.

As of February 2021, there were 37 ecozones in Mindanao, with 15 operating as information technology parks. — Angelica Y. Yang