Yas Abon, 59 and Lainus Abon, 57, brothers from Kampung Krusen in Serian, have been farmers all their lives. Since leaving school after Primary 6, they both decided to focus on farming and toil in their pepper gardens.
Today, besides pepper, they also have paddy farms, a rubber garden and family livestock to tend to. They’ve shed blood and sweat throughout the years to save enough money and build a decent family home together with their elderly parents. Yas is a widower with three children, while Lainus remains single.
While the brothers’ consistent hard work as traditional subsistence farmers has pulled them through the rigors of life, modern farmers like David Disam Nyokeng has led the way in commercial agriculture and the results are miles apart.
Disam, 53, adopted modern farming by venturing into commercial pineapple farming in Bau in 2016. Spanning an area of over 319 acres, his plantation which focuses on producing MD2 pineapples, was able to produce some 30,000 fruit in its first harvest in 2019. His current income is much more than when he was working at the bank.
Disam is now looking forward to marketing his fruit to bigger markets such as China, as he has just received the Malaysian Good Agricultural Practices (myGAP) certification from Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry.
This, along with modern farming techniques such as precision farming, is the way that the Sarawak government wants its agriculture sector to move forward so that farmers are able to get higher incomes in future.
Getting everybody on board with modern farming
In practice, however, Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas said the government faces various challenges, especially in changing the mindset of traditional subsistence farmers as well as getting the younger generation to get their “hands dirty” in modern and commercial agriculture.
“The main challenges are to empower the people, especially the agropreneurs and to get the young people involved in agriculture.
“And the landowners too must develop their land as we noticed that is still plenty of land being left idle. Those are some of the biggest challenges that we have,” Uggah said.
Secondly, Uggah stressed that there was a need to create a supply chain to ensure that the agriculture sector would move towards becoming a high-tech industry.
“We also need to go downstream and to be able to market their products,” he said.
For that purpose, starting this year, the agriculture department will focus on fertigation systems as it has the capacity to maximise crop yields up to ﬁve times per unit area through the controlled application of water and fertilisers with sensor technology.
To ensure its long term success, Uggah has directed all divisional agriculture officers, with the cooperation of elected representatives, to come up with proposals for projects in every constituency.
Thirdly, the Sarawak government will invite entrepreneurs who have the resources, technology and ready market to invest in the agriculture sector.
“These are the few challenges that we will be facing in the next 10 years,” he reiterated.
What’s in store for agriculture in 2020?
For this year, the Sarawak government has allocated RM797 million to modernise the agriculture sector with various incentives for farmers, fishermen and for budding agropreneurs to further develop the sector and to increase the income of farmers and fishermen.
Additionally, Uggah stressed that there was a need to create more community-enterprises through the area farmers organisations (AFOs), intensifying rehabilitation programmes for high-demand fruits like durian, pineapple, rambutan and banana, upgrading the existing 140 agricultural stations in Sarawak, as well as increasing the number of agriculture extension officers and sourcing for funds.
Modernising the agriculture sector is one of Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg’s 81 initiatives which he introduced since his appointment three years ago.
The 81 initiatives encompass various aspects of building up Sarawak, such as regaining Sarawak’s lost rights, leapfrogging the state’s digital and technological development as well as revenue re-engineering, injecting funds to boost infrastructure in rural areas, fair religious and racial policies and many others.
Abang Johari has emphasised that to modernise the agriculture sector there is a need to create knowledgeable and highly educated agricultural entrepreneurs using digital applications and IoT.
The initiative also includes strengthening the business model for the agricultural sector by offering funds to farmers, agriculture courses, establishing agro parks, establishing the Centre for Collection, Processing and Packaging (CPPC) and Permanent Food Production Park; construction of new State Farmers Association (PPNS) office building and acquiring s special cargo plane through Hornbill Skyways to enable rural produce to be marketed outside Sarawak.
The ultimate goal of all these initiatives is to develop the agriculture sector to ensure that Sarawak would be able to become a net exporter of food by 2030. And towards that end, it is hoped that by the next decade, farmers (including fishermen) in Sarawak will be able to achieve higher income of at least RM4,000 per month. — DayakDaily