By Madelaine B. Miraflor
There is now a confusion over the identity of the foreign investors, who intend to invest P8 billion to develop a massive banana plantation in Camp Abubakar, the main base of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mindanao.
This developed as Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol must have mistaken Swiss mining firm Solway Investment Group for the foreign company behind the plan to develop what could be the next largest contiguous banana plantation in the world.
Piñol has identified Solway Investment Group and Techiron Resources, Inc. as two of the Swiss and Russian investors groups who are interested to put up a plantation in Camp Abubakar, the main base of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), for an initial investment of P8 billion.
“Both Techiron and Solway Group have interests in mining and minerals but are now venturing into agriculture and aquaculture in the Philippines targeting the Russian market,” Piñol said.
Piñol further said that Solway Group and Techiron Resources are being represented by Philippine-based French-Russian businessman Robert Gaspar.
But Solway Investment Group’s Communications team in Switzerland denied Piñol’s statements saying it does have plans to invest in agriculture in the Philippines.
“Solway Investment Group would like to clarify its position with regards to the possibility of a potential involvement in the agricultural industry of the Philippines,” the company said in an email to Manila Business Bulletin.
“We invest in industrial assets, relaunch producing assets and develop greenfield projects. Our core businesses are ore extraction and metal smelting. Agriculture has never been and is currently not under consideration for potential investment,” it added.
The company pointed out further that other details recently reported in the news regarding its investment plans in the Philippines “are not accurate and do not reflect the current state of the Group’s business.”
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 in Eastern Samar.
Techiron is Solway’s partner in the mining and metals business in the Philippines. And is one of the companies that former Environment Secretary Regina Paz Lopez wanted to close down.
As of 2016, the firm’s investment in Philippines already amounted to P1.1 billion.
When asked for clarification, Piñol said he specifically asked Gaspar about the investors in the Bangsamoro project and whether the names could be made public.
“He [Gaspar] identified Solway as his partner in the agriculture and aqua projects in the Bangsamoro area. It could be possible that he is in contact with [some] officials of Solway who may have referred the project to Solway Investments, which I believe is the holding company,” Piñol said.
“Whatever is the arrangement between Techiron and Solway would not really matter in as far as the project is concerned. It will be launched February 16 with Techiron as the partner,” he added.
As for Gaspar’s clarification, Piñol could only surmised that Solway could be part of the project.
“Solway is Techiron’s partner in their mining operations in Homonhon Island and since Techiron is venturing into agriculture and aqua projects in the Philippines, Solway will be part of the venture,” he said.
“So, the statement by Solway shared with you earlier is technically correct because Solway, on its own, is not making investments in the Bangsamoro area,” Piñol said.