SL Agritech set to expand overseas

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - After a successful venture in Papua New Guinea, hybrid rice grower SL Agritech Corp. (SLAC) is laying the groundwork for expansion of operations in other countries in the Pacific Islands and Africa.

Since commencing operations in Papua New Guinea early this year, SL Agritech has already provided hybrid rice seeds for 30 hectares of land in the country. Now grown in Papua New Guinea are high-yielding varieties such as SL-8H, SL-18H and SL-12H.

Encouraged by this venture, SLAC has signed a memorandum of understanding with its existing business partner in Papua New Guinea — Australia-based commodities firm Calmwind Pty Ltd. (CPL) — to expand their hybrid rice operations in Samoa, Fiji, Solomon Island and Mozambique in Africa.

SLAC chairman Henry Lim Bon Liong said the company would provide the technology for hybrid rice cultivation in these countries where CPL has established operations.

CPL would also have exclusive right to propagate SLAC’s hybrid rice seeds in these countries.

The commodities firm is particularly bullish about prospects for hybrid rice cultivation in Mozambique where sugarcane farmers are shifting to rice.

“They have close to 9,000 hectares of sugarcane farm in Mozambique. But because of bad sugarcane farming, they’re looking at the possibility of hybrid rice,” said SLAC consultant Dr. Frisco M. Malabanan.

In Papua New Guinea, the existing cultivation area of 30 hectares would be expanded in the dry season of March and April.

Malabanan said CPL, with the support of the government of Papua New Guinea, would immediately expand the cultivation area to between 500 to 1,000 hectares.

Papua New Guinea, he noted, still has thousands of hectares of farmlands that may be used for hybrid rice cultivation.

The government of Papua New Guinea provides financial incentives to companies like CPL and SLAC that engage in rice cultivation as part of it strategy to lessen dependence on rice imports. The country currently imports about 300,000 MT tons of rice annually, mostly from Vietnam.

At the start of its venture in Papua New Guinea, SLAC deployed a technical staff to train farmers on hybrid rice cultivation.

Malabanan said an irrigation system developed in Australia enables SLAC varieties, particularly SL-8H to perform well. CPL employs direct seeding of rice seeds (instead of transplanting) with overhead sprinklers for irrigation.

“Such system has brought a very high average rice yield of 10 metric tons (MT) per hectare in Australia which is actually the highest average yield per hectare in the world,” said Malabanan.

The Department of Agriculture, formally engaged in 2013 the government of Papua New Guinea for exchanges in technical cooperation in rice production and fisheries.

In return for knowledge and technical assistance on rice production, Papua New Guinea is expected to give Philippine seafood companies access to its fishing grounds for a fee.

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