Southeast Asia initiative has potential to grow our innovation, writes Rebecca Palmer

A government programme has identified plenty of potential for New Zealand farming innovation to be adapted in the Southeast Asia region.

More than 60 top Southeast Asian entrepreneurs have visited New Zealand for tailored programmes through the Asean Young Business Leaders Initiative, which is managed by Asia New Zealand Foundation on behalf of the government.

About one-third of this group work in Southeast Asian agribusiness or food and beverage sectors.

In June, the Asia New Zealand Foundation took 10 business leaders from six Southeast Asian countries to the Waikato agricultural Fieldays. They also visited Waikato farms through Landcorp.


One of the participants, New Zealand-educated Malaysian businessman Wei Sheng Phee, says international interest in agricultural technology is growing because of increasing food security concerns caused by climate change. "This year, all of Southeast Asia was affected by drought. New Zealand is an agricultural nation and I see New Zealand can play a very big role, especially in precision and monitoring technology, and irrigation.

"For instance, in New Zealand electric fences are used to keep farm animals in the paddock, but in Malaysia they could be used to keep animals like wild boars away from crops."

Phee is director of a pesticide-free sweet potato company which he hopes to grow into a global brand under the trademark Ubiss.

Phyu Hninn Nyein believes New Zealand's precision agriculture and digital technology innovations "have a lot of potential to bloom in Myanmar".

Hninn is operations manager at Proximity Designs, a social enterprise that works to increase the incomes of rural smallholder farms in Myanmar. She manages a team of crop scientists focusing on climate-smart agricultural techniques to boost productivity and solve pest and disease problems in rice paddies.

Others hosted through the initiative include Filipino billionaire Joseph Calata, CEO and chairman of Calata Corporation -- the Philippines' biggest seller of agro-chemicals, fertilisers, seeds, feeds and veterinary medicines.

Asia New Zealand Foundation's Adam McConnochie, who manages the initiative, says New Zealand companies often look to sell dairy and other agricultural products to Southeast Asian markets, but are not yet making the most of opportunities in agricultural services.

"In my time travelling round New Zealand with Southeast Asian entrepreneurs they have been impressed by the skills New Zealand has in agriculture, but they say their countries don't have dairy industries.

We are constantly looking for ways to expand New Zealanders' understanding of these markets.


"That's where New Zealand companies could make a shift -- using their experience with agricultural systems but adjusting them to be successful in Southeast Asian countries.

He points to the example of Auckland agri-tech company Tru-Test Group, which adapted its scales for weighing bananas in the Philippines.

ASEAN is a grouping of 10 Southeast Asian nations, with a population of more than 620 million. New Zealand is part of the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand free trade agreement.

The Young Business Leaders Initiative, to facilitate trade and build networks, became reciprocal in 2015, and the Asia New Zealand Foundation has taken small groups of New Zealand entrepreneurs to Southeast Asia on sector-specific visits.

"We are constantly looking for ways to expand New Zealanders' understanding of these markets," McConnochie says.