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May 17, 2009

Filipino food security not at risk from foreign farm projects, assures government

by N. J. C. Morales

The Phillipines Agriculture department has assured that the government’s bid to attract foreign investments to farm ventures will not compromise the country’s food security and self-sufficiency targets.

In a press release yesterday, Agriculture Secretary Arthur C. Yap said "most of the food to be produced in lands up for development through foreign investments will stay in the country to meet our food security goals; only excess supply will be shipped out for overseas consumption."

For instance, the department’s thrust to produce biofuel feedstock focuses on areas where non-food crops such as jatropha are grown, rather than on farmlands used for the production of palay and corn, Mr. Yap said.

The country has as much as 1.9 million hectares of community-based forestry management areas available for development, data from the Environment department show. Mindanao alone has 171,000 hectares of land that can be prepared for agriculture ventures.

The Philippine Agricultural Development and Commercial Corp. (PADCC) was tasked to work closely with the Philippine Export Zone Authority (PEZA) to set up special agro-economic zones in Mindanao to encourage more foreign investments in agribusiness.

"I will ask PEZA to study my proposal on the establishment of special zones so we can bring in more private-sector investments, especially for the agriculture and fisheries sector in Mindanao," Mr. Yap said.

in May, PADCC President Marriz B. Agbon said Saudi businessmen indicated an investment of $300 million to develop 20,000 hectares of lands and plant commercial crops like banana and pineapple in Mindanao. PADCC is the marketing arm of the Agriculture department.

Fourteen business executives from Saudi Arabia ’s biggest agricultural companies led by Saudi Agriculture Minister Fahad A. Bal-Ghunaim attended a three-day agribusiness trade mission early this month.

According to PEZA, the lease period for locators in the envisioned special agro-economic zones will not exceed 50 years, extendible once for not more than 25 years.

However, the Agriculture department wants to give the Saudi businessmen 75 years of land lease, considering the long gestation period for agriculture ventures and to be competitive with the 99-year contract in Africa.

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