Bernas keeps 50,000-metric tonne rice stockpile in case of global shortage

Transporters handling subsidised goods, including rice, to rural areas, under Price Standardisation Programme of KDPNHEP. (Photo courtesy of KPDNHEP).

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By Lian Cheng

KUCHING, Nov 29: To avoid the impact of unexpected rice shortages in the global market, Padiberas Nasional Berhad (Bernas) keeps a 33,200-metric tonne rice stockpile and another 20,000 metric tonnes as trading stock, which could sustain five months’ supply, since monthly commercial demand for rice in Sarawak is estimated at about 10,000 metric tonnes.

Food Industry, Commodity and Regional Development Minister Dato Sri Dr Stephen Rundi Utom revealed this while delivering his ministerial winding-up speech at the Sarawak Legislative Assembly (DUN) sitting held here today.

He said, current annual domestic rice production can only meet 38 per cent of Sarawak’s requirement. To meet demand, Sarawak had to import 146,000 metric tonnes of rice in 2021, valued at RM387 million.

As a long-term solution, the ministry has taken major initiatives to reduce Sarawak’s over-reliance on imported rice. This includes boosting rice production through various initiatives.

He said the total area suitable for paddy cultivation in Sarawak is estimated at about 150,000 hectares, including more than 200 Department of Irrigation and Drainage (DID) schemes and other agriculture production areas. Due to the poor condition of infrastructure in most of these areas, farmers have either left their land idle or planted other lucrative crops such as oil palm.

“As a result, the total size of land that is currently cultivated with paddy has significantly reduced to about 83,000 hectares in 2021,” said Dr Rundi.

Sarawak DID, he said, is currently rehabilitating two existing DID schemes–Tanjung Purun Scheme and Kampung Pueh Scheme–which cover a total area of 200 hectares with a cost of RM3.8 million under the 12th Malaysia Plan (12MP).

Another project which has been approved for infrastructure upgrading by Sarawak DID is the rehabilitation of Mid-Sadong I Scheme at a cost of RM30 million and involving more than 500 hectares. It is currently at the planning stage.

In this scheme, about 100 hectares at Kampung Lubok Punggor will be devoted to the cultivation of a specialty rice, Biris. The development of this project is scheduled to commence in the first quarter of 2023.

In addition, a total of 90 hectares of existing paddy fields in Lebor, Serian Division will also be rehabilitated by Department of Agriculture Sarawak (DOA), of which to date, 30 hectares have been developed.

Plans are also underway to upgrade an area in Abok, Pantu in Sri Aman Division, measuring 120 hectares under 12MP.

New areas which have been approved for irrigated paddy cultivation projects include 80 hectares at Kampung Mujat in Serian Division at a cost of RM4.5 million.

The tender for this project is expected to be opened in 2023.

Apart from Kampung Mujat, another area that has been identified as having potential for large scale paddy cultivation is at Selepong-Panggil in Sri Aman Division.

This project will be developed in phases and will begin with an initial size of 600 hectares. Once completed, this project has the potential to produce 5,400 metric tonnes of paddy annually using double cropping.

Under Batang Lupar Rice Granary Project which is developed by Integrated Agriculture Development Area (IADA) Batang Lupar, the development of major infrastructures at Lingga-Banting is progressing well.

This project is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2024 at a total cost of RM102.5 million. Once completed, the development of these 920 hectares is expected to produce 7,400 metric tonnes of paddy annually via double cropping.

Apart from government initiatives, the private sector is also encouraged to invest and participate in large scale paddy cultivation.

“Following the introduction of SMART Large-Scale Paddy Planting Model (Model SMART Sawah Berskala Besar – SMART SBB) by the federal government in 2021, my ministry will extend and introduce this model in Sarawak for greater private sector and community participation in the whole or parts of the paddy and rice industry supply chain.

“Under this initiative, two major companies have shown an interest to be SMART SBB players in Sarawak,” said Dr Rundi.

To improve efficiency and productivity, as well as to attract greater youth participation, the adoption of mechanization and automation is imperative, he added.

In this regard, several Pertubuhan Peladang Kawasan (PPK) are currently providing farm mechanisation services to their members and other farmers.

To achieve higher yield and quality, farmers are encouraged to use quality paddy seeds. For this purpose, the DOA has established a 46-hectare permanent seed farm at Stumbin in Sri Aman Division.

In 2022, DOA produced 42 metric tonnes of quality paddy seeds. These seeds were distributed to about 1,500 farmers and private companies for cultivation. — DayakDaily