Swiss miner diversifies into agriculture

Published January 29, 2019, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Madelaine B. Miraflor

Swiss mining firm Solway Investment Group, who operates two chromite mines in the Philippines, is interested to diversify into agriculture, with an initial plan to build in Mindanao what could be the next largest contiguous banana plantation in the world.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said on Friday that it is Solway Investment Group and Techiron Resources, Inc. who are interested to put up massive banana plantation in Mindanao.

Solway Investment Group is a private mining and metals group headquartered in Switzerland, with mines and smelting plants in Guatemala, Ukraine, Russia, Macedonia, Indonesia and Philippines.

It operates two open pit chromite mines in the Philippines, both of which are in Homonhon Island, Municipality of Guiuan, Province of Eastern Samar.

It is not clear, however, in which Philippine company Solway Group is invested in or if it’s related to Techiron Resources. A data from Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) showed that there are only two chromite mines in Eastern Samar as of 2016, namely Techiron Resources and Mt. Sinai Resources and Exploration Corporation.

In a separate data, it was disclosed that Techiron is 38 percent owned by Swiss investors, which were not specified. The firm’s investment in Philippines as of 2016 already amounted to P1.1 billion.

Techiron Resources is one of the companies that former Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez wanted to close down.

Piñol said Solway Group and Techiron Resources are being represented by Philippine-based French-Russian businessman Robert Gaspar.

A report last week quoted the Department of Agriculture (DA) chief saying that the investors were supposed to be Russians. But the DA chief specified on Friday that the interested investors, namely Techiron and Solway, have “both interests in mining and minerals but are now venturing into agriculture and aquaculture in the Philippines targeting the Russian market”.

Solway Group was sought for confirmation but Business Bulletin is yet to get a reply.

Officials of these companies are said to arrive in the Philippines on February 16, the target launch date of the project. They will initially develop 1,000 hectares of land.

But the plan is to really secure 5,000 to 20,000 hectares of land within the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) main enclave of Camp Abubakar in the boundaries of Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur for the banana plantation.

“This is our modest contribution to the efforts of President Rody Duterte to bring peace and development to Mindanao,” Gaspar said, as cited by Piñol.

The project, estimated at P8 billion, will be the first and biggest investment in the Bangsamoro area, following the signing and ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, Piñol said.

He said that Gaspar and a group from Bangsamoro, which was represented by former Buldon Mayor Taungan Macasandag and former Vice Mayor Nasrudin Maluag, already signed initial agreement for the project.

This should allow the investors to conduct surveys, soil tests and aerial mapping of the area.

The survey team will proceed to Camp Abubakar on Monday, January 28, and will stay there for one week.

When fully operational, the project is expected to provide work for at least 10,000 people, many of whom former cadres and combatants.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Soils and Water Management and the Information and Communications Technology Service of the DA will assist in the soil survey, aerial mapping and geo-referencing.

The Philippines is currently the second largest exporter of banana, next to Ecuador. Bulk of the country’s supply comes from Mindanao.

Right now, the world’s largest contiguous banana plantation is also in Mindanao, which is being operated by Tagum Development Corp. (TADECO) under a joint venture deal with Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).