"People in Need has such an excellent reputation as a partner in development," says Ambassador of New Zealand to Philippines about the joint cooperation in the country
“I like chocolate too much. If you look closely you can see why (laughs). I like Dairy Milk chocolate, I am addicted to it. I find it easier actually to give up alcohol than to give up chocolate,“ the Ambassador of New Zealand to the Philippines, David Strachan, starts our interview about cacao, local farmers and even the Czech Republic.
We are sitting in Guiuan after visiting the project of People in Need and SPS Biosecurity Ltd., which is funded by New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade Aid Programme and aims to increase the resilience for poor farmers through enhanced cacao production in Eastern Samar province.
Why did New Zealand decide to support cacao production in the Philippines?
This is an excellent project in one of the most vulnerable provinces in this country to climate change. It is an area of the Philippines, this is one of the least developed and of course, tragically it was at the epicentre of Yolanda (Note: The strongest typhoon ever to hit the mainland struck large parts of Philippines) back in 2013. And, I know that People in Need has been involved for a very long time in this region. And that’s another reason actually because People in Need has such an excellent reputation as a partner in development. So, coupled with that we also have some scientific expertise from New Zealand, that’s involved in this project. So, it is a combination of various factors that led us to conclude this was a project worth investing in.
Why was Eastern Samar selected as a target area for the cacao project? Did the level of poverty in this part of Philippines play a role in its selection?
Sure, the incidence of poverty is quite high here. It is not easy for logistical reasons to develop this region. We would like to do what we can to support community leaders. And the other factor in this, of course, is that New Zealand under its aid programme to the Philippines is evolving from a concentration in dairy projects, which we have been doing for last five years, into the horticultural sector. So, it makes good sense for us to invest in a region which we think has got great potential in horticulture and cacao makes a lot of sense.
What is the current role of the government of New Zealand in the cacao sector in the Pacific region?
I am not familiar with all the details but the SPS group [SPS Biosecurity Ltd.], are involved in Samoa in similar project and they have done well there. Even though cacao is not a crop that is grown widely in New Zealand there is a lot of expertise in tree crops in New Zealand that can be applied more broadly in the Pacific region and Asia.
The project started just a few months ago, but what was your impression after visiting farmers, local service providers and the cacao nursery yesterday?
So far so good. I was impressed yesterday. I saw the nursery in Salcedo, it was incredible to see the amount of progress that has been made in the last six months, to detect the enthusiasm from local farmers and the support from local leaders. I think this is the platform for a really promising project.
What, in your opinion, is the biggest benefit of the programme?
The biggest benefit I think is to give another option for small farmers here to develop a livelihood that is sustainable in the longer term. There is a limited range of options here and this is one that is worth investing in.
You already mentioned the role of Czechs in this project. In the Czech Republic, every pupil learns about New Zealand in their first geography lesson when we are asked what is the furthest place from the Czech Republic on Earth and the right answer is New Zealand! What is your relationship to the Czech Republic?
I have been to your beautiful country and I have to say that I think Prague is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. Really, it is wonderful. I have warm memories of the hospitality of Czech people. You have been through so much in your history and it has been a tragic history in many ways. But, now you are prospering, part of the EU and you know I think the best years lie ahead for your country.
Do you remember when you first heard about People in Need and what do you think about the work we are doing in this part of Philippines?
I think you are doing a fantastic job. You have been here for the long haul. You came here after Yolanda and I think that the work you are doing in more than 20 countries reflects very well on your citizens. It reminds me of the outward looking internationalism that your great leader Vaclav Havel stood for. At a time when the ugly face of nationalism is again rearing its head in many parts of the world, sadly as also evidenced in the recent terrorist attack perpetrated in my country by a white supremist, the values of humanism and internationalism that People in Need stands for should be a source of pride for all Czechs. Your country has got a really good track record in development through People in Need and all power to you.
What other development projects is the New Zealand government supporting here in the Philippines?
We are doing a lot of work in Mindanao, through education and scholarships and through rural development in some of the conflict torn parts of Mindanao and we are investing also in the horticultural sector there. That for us is a big emphasis, as is disaster risk management.