DAVAO CITY — Cacao farmers in Mindanao, particularly in the Davao Region, see New Zealand as a fresh market with the recent appointment of Mindanao Business Council (MBC) chair Vicente T. Lao as the country’s honorary consul for Mindanao.
“We look at New Zealand as a market… they prefer chocolates,” said Val D. Turtur, president of the Cacao Industry Development Association of Mindanao Inc. (Cidami), in an interview during the inauguration dinner for Mr. Lao last week.
Mr. Turtur said they will be joining the first trade mission that the MBC chair is organizing.
“We will try also to connect [with the cacao and chocolate market]. We can also promote there. Even if it is a small country, we can target the high-end market. It is also a good market because they also have milk products which can be combined, re-processed and made into chocolates,” he said in the vernacular.
At the same time, he added, New Zealand could serve as an access point to the Australian market. At present, Davao exports only semi-finished products such as cocoa liquor (tablea) in blocks to Australia.
Mr. Lao, meanwhile, said he will be focusing on developing links in the agriculture sector so that Mindanao farmers and fisherfolk can tap into New Zealand technology and expertise for increasing production.
“Basically, I accepted the position to help our farmers and fisherfolk here. New Zealand has very good technology when it comes to agriculture and fisheries,” Mr. Lao said in a separate interview during the same dinner hosted by the New Zealand Embassy.
Mr. Lao cited that New Zealand is very advanced in terms of mechanization given its limited human resources.
“New Zealand has very few people. For them to really be productive, they really have to rely on technology. In our [Mindanao’s] case, we really need that because our productivity is very low,” he said.
Mr. Lao said the planned trade mission would most likely be in December or next year in order to have enough time to assess potential business matching.
Apart from agriculture, the new consul said tourism is another sector that New Zealand and Mindanao can expand — with Filipinos going there to experience winter, and New Zealanders coming here to enjoy the summer weather.
“It’s very near. Why should we go all the way to US and Europe to experience a winter environment,” he said, adding that New Zealand is also a prime viewing location for the Southern Lights. New Zealanders, on the other hand, “can always come here and enjoy the sun.”
Mr. Turtur, who is also the president of the Davao Farm Tourism Association, said farm tourism could also get a boost from New Zealand as the cacao industry develops more sites. He said cacao farm tourism will be launched and promoted as a new attraction during the Davao Kadayawan Festival in August.
“In farm tourism, we will just try to do what we call value-adding activities aside from production. We can accept tourists and visitors and that will be additional income for the farmers,” he explained.
Mr. Turtur added that the Davao farming sector is optimistic about the appointment of former Agriculture undersecretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat as Tourism Secretary. “We are happy,” he said. “I read in the reports that her heart belongs to agriculture — she will marry tourism and agriculture.” — Maya M. Padillo