The 10 business leaders from six Southeast Asian countries attended Waikato agricultural show Fieldays in June. The visit was part of the ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative, managed by the Asia New Zealand Foundation for the New Zealand Government.
During their week-long programme, they visited Waikato farms, attended government briefings in Wellington and visited Auckland agritech company Tru-Test Group. They also presented to a group that included 30 of the Foundation's Leadership Network members about the agriculture sectors in their home countries at the Foundation’s Agrihui event. The Agrihui was held Waikato to coincide with Fieldays.
New Zealand-educated Malaysian businessman Wei Sheng Phee saw Fieldays with new eyes, having previously visited the agricultural show when he was studying economics and finance at the University of Waikato in the 2000s. Phee is now director of a pesticide-free sweet potato company, which he hopes to grow into a global brand under the trademark Ubiss.
He said agricultural technology was of growing international interest because of increasing food security concerns caused by climate change.
“New Zealand is an agricultural nation and I see New Zealand can play a very big role, especially in precision technology, monitoring technology, irrigation."
He says although most agricultural technology coming out of New Zealand is intended for markets with a temperate climate, much of it could be adapted to suit the tropical climate of Southeast Asia.
As an example, he notes how in New Zealand electric fences are used to keep farm animals in paddocks, but in Malaysia they could be used to keep animals like wild boars away from crops.
Laos agricultural consultant Phoxai Vongphasith was impressed by the way innovative ideas were shared at Fieldays to help grow the agricultural sector.
“At home, in comparison, if you have something, you tend to keep it to yourself … In my country, farming is a profession we have been keeping for centuries, but our profession is still subsistence style and everyone is trying to escape from that...”
Fieldays encouraged him to think about niche markets, rather than trying to do everything. “You have to start with one thing and try and keep your products high quality.”
He was particularly interested in New Zealand’s manuka honey industry and was thinking about how he could produce honey in Laos. However, he sees potential stumbling blocks. “At home … because slash and burn activities are so huge and bees are having a hard time to find honey to live, it’s a process to bring bees back into life again.”
Phyu Hninn Nyein 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.
At Fieldays, she was most interested in the innovation centre, and in learning more about large cooperatives like Fonterra and Zespri. She felt New Zealand’s precision agriculture and digital technology innovations “have a lot of potential to bloom in Myanmar”.
The visiting Southeast Asian agribusiness entrepreneurs also participated in the Asia New Zealand Foundation’s Agribusiness Hui, alongside 30 New Zealand-based members of the Foundation’s Leadership Network. At that event they had the opportunity to interact with young leaders in New Zealand’s farming and food sectors, and to hear about agricultural connections between New Zealand and Asia.
ASEAN is a grouping of 10 Southeast Asian nations with a population of more than 620 million. New Zealand has a free trade agreement in place with ASEAN through the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand FTA (AANZFTA).