By Maya M. Padillo

DAVAO CITY — The New Zealand government wants to bring its expertise in two sectors, renewable energy (RE) and agriculture, in Mindanao through various partnership schemes, according to its new envoy.

“We are interested in working together on areas where we have strengths and one of those is the renewable energy. That is one of the areas we want to work and support in Mindanao,” Ambassador Peter Kell said in an interview late Thursday on the sidelines of a scholarship promotion event.

He said New Zealand is particularly interested in helping develop green energy sources in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) as a way of supporting government efforts on peace and economic development in the restive region.

Mr. Kell noted that 80% of New Zealand’s energy supply is currently from hydropower, geothermal, wind, and solar, and the government is aiming for a 100% green mix by 2035.

“That means we have to up the proportion of our RE… If there are other projects where we can draw our strengths on RE, then we will be very interested,” he said.

Honorary Consul of New Zealand in Mindanao Vicente T. Lao, also chair of the Mindanao Business Council, said biomass is another RE source that can be explored with New Zealand.

Mindanao, he said, has a lot of potential biomass input from the banana farms and other agriculture areas.

“The technology we have in biomass is not that advanced. We have so much biomass in Mindanao and it’s just being thrown away right now. I think we have a good potential in biomass generation,” Mr. Lao said.

In agriculture, New Zealand’s biggest trade sector, Mr. Kell said he will be building on initiatives made by his predecessor, David Strachan, including strengthening cooperation with the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA)

Among the programs under discussion with stakeholders involves BARMM areas.

“The talks were done with my predecessor and I am here to continue those discussions,” he said.

The envoy also announced that the New Zealand government has provided $2.4 million in financial aid package for the training of mango sprayers and growers in Mindanao.

“Protocols such as what we need to spray properly, what kind of chemicals that you can spray with, and when to stop spraying,” Mr. Lao said.

In December, MinDA, representing the Philippine government, signed a three-year co-investment project with the New Zealand Embassy and NZ G2G Partnerships Ltd. for mango exports.

One of the items under the program is a feasibility study for setting up quality assurance systems for fresh mango to ensure compliance with sanitary and phytosanitary standards.

Mr. Lao said exporting mangoes will mean much higher income for growers with prices of up to P400/kilo compared with an average P50/kilo farm gate price for the domestic market.

Mr. Kell was in Davao City on Jan. 20-31 to promote the New Zealand Scholarship program in various local academic institutions.

Agriculture and green energy are among the priority sectors for the post-graduate study, along with disaster risk management, and public sector management, including peace and conflict, and indigenous studies.