Agriculture dept’s new task: Turn surplus edible produce into snacks

Chai (third from left) exchanging the signed document with Ng (third from right), witnessed by Uggah (centre). Also seen are (from right) Hong, Ik Pahon, Dr Abdul Rahman and Ngab Dollah.

By Karen Bong

KUCHING, Jan 16: The Agriculture Department has been entrusted to create a mechanism to buy surplus edible produce, such as fruits, from farmers to make healthy and tasty snacks, instead of throwing them away.

Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas acknowledged that excess fruits, like the seasonal rambutans and durians, could end up as waste or lost food at different stages of the supply chain.

“In my trips to the rural areas, I also observed that a lot of rambutans on trees were not consumed, so they become waste,” he told reporters after witnessing the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the state government and Lotus Farm Agritech Sdn Bhd today.

“So, I have asked the director of Agriculture, Dr Alvin Chai, to look into working out a mechanism to buy these fruits to be processed as dried fruits, like the pineapple, banana, watermelon and durian that we have tasted today.”

Uggah was responding to a news report in a local daily urging for action to stop oversupply of fruits going to waste season after season, which is common in Sarawak due mainly to the lack of market, transportation and repacking or reselling opportunities.

While excess fruits can be potential downstream products, Uggah, however, pointed out that an anchor company was needed as they played vital roles to bring products to a ready market.

“If what farmers produce cannot reach the market, it can never help them in raising their income.”

Hence, Uggah, who is also Minister of Agriculture Modernisation, Native Land and Regional Development, said Lotus Farm was the latest to partner the state government as an anchor company to strengthen the agriculture sector. This, in turn, would help the state achieve its aim to be net exporter of food by 2030.

He informed that Sarawak currently imports almost RM4 billion worth of food, with a net import of RM3.6 billion.

Uggah (third from left) cutting a golden melon fruit to mark the state government-Lotus Farm partnership. Also seen are (from left) Ik Pahon, Ng, Dr Abdul Rahman and Chai.

An anchor company, he shared, must meet four requirements, namely having upstream experience, processing facilities, knowledge and technology, and readily accessible markets domestically and abroad.

“Once we have the supply chain, it is then easy for farmers, whether they are smallholders or semi-smallholders, to tap into the opportunities. Whatever the farmers produce can be marketed.

“The end game of agriculture projects is to increase the income of the farmers. If the farmers’ products cannot be sold, then there is no way to increase their income.”

With Lotus Farm’s vast experience, Uggah said it demonstrated that fertigation and the hydroponic farming system could be established in urban areas, too.

“It may look simple, but the reality is, it is quite complicated as knowledge and skills are required from germination to fertilisation and growth to fully mature stage of the fruits.

“The direction of this MoU is to explore and tap into the technology and knowledge in this fertigation and hydroponic system.”

The state government has engaged a few anchor companies, including Top Fruits Sdn Bhd (who has exported some 16 tonnes of durian paste to China to date), Banana Tree Sdn Bhd (who has exported banana chips to China), and Rimbunan Hijau Group (for the development of ‘kelulut’ or stingless bee honey).

“One of the companies is busy buying durians to be produced into durian paste and packed for export to China. Towards the end of this month, I hope to send off one container load to China.”

In the signing of the MoU, the state government was represented by Chai and the department’s deputy director Ngab Dollah Salam, while directors Fabian Ng and Hong Boon Kheng inked for Lotus Farm.

Downstream products such as dried fruits made of banana, pineapple, watermelon, dragonfruit and durian can become healthy and tasty snacks.

The objective of the MoU is to promote and enhance cooperation between Lotus Farm and the state government in the production of food crops using greenhouse, fertigation and hydroponic farming systems in Sarawak along the whole supply and value chain for mutual benefit.

Lotus Farm started in Johor in 2009 and set up their farm in Kuching in 2017.

Their flagship product is the golden melon. The planting cycle is four times a year, and they are planted in greenhouses spanning 2,400 sq ft each. Each greenhouse can grow up to 600 plants. For quality purposes, each plant is only allowed to produce one fruit with an average weight of 1.2 kg.

Assistant Minister of Agriculture Dr Abdul Rahman Ismail and permanent secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture Modernisation, Native Land and Regional Development Datuk Ik Pahon Joyik were present. — DayakDaily