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By Geryl Ogilvy
KUCHING, Nov 27: The Sarawak government has called for the introduction of a social safety net mechanism to shield pepper planters from the impact of commodity price declines.
Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas said the policy could be modelled after the Rubber Production Incentive (RPI), which protects the welfare of smallholders when the price of rubber falls below RM2.20 per kg for cuplumps or when SMR20 price is below RM5.50 per kg.
Under the RPI programme, the government would cover the difference in prices for smallholder production.
Uggah, who is also the state Modernisation of Agriculture, Native Land and Regional Development Minister, said such a mechanism would ease the burden of stakeholders and encouraged planters to continue growing pepper despite the low market price.
“We need to implement such a mechanism to help the over 30,000 pepper smallholders in the state. We have raised this issue with the federal government.
“Sarawak is famous for its premium pepper, and we need to protect the industry, which contributes significantly to the state and national GDP (Gross Domestic Product),” he said at Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok’s townhall session with pepper stakeholders and industry players here on Tuesday.
Uggah said during its historical peak, the price of black pepper was RM50,000 per tonne, but now, the commodity was trading below half that price.
Uggah also raised the issue of pepper diseases, which caused the industry to lose millions of ringgit annually.
On a related note, Uggah said the state would help oil palm, rubber and pepper smallholders in the form of fertilisers and other farming input next year to ease their burden following the drastic drop in prices of these commodities.
Apart from precision farming that the state planned to introduce as well as modern farming techniques such as fertigation and hydroponics, he advised farmers to diversify their agriculture activities by planting various cash crops and to be involved in livestock rearing.
Uggah also raised concerns of traders who sell pepper from other countries but pass it off as premium Sarawak pepper. This has affected the image and authenticity of the state’s pepper brand.
He called on the Malaysian Pepper Board to regulate the matter, especially involving those involving packaging.
Kok, in her speech, said her ministry would go all out to promote Sarawak premium pepper in the global market. She cited plans to penetrate the United States and China.
“Sarawak premium pepper should be marketed worldwide, but we must first put our house in order. We need to address the drop in prices and support for smallholders as well as pepper diseases.
“Vietnam and Indonesia are our biggest competitors in pepper export, but we must find ways to strongly position our premium Sarawak pepper in the worldwide market,” she continued.
The townhall session was to gather input and suggestions from local smallholders on ways to improve and develop the pepper industry. — DayakDaily