Sarawak emerges as world’s sole exporter of sago starch despite lower profile in global sago cultivation

Sarawak is currently the world’s sole exporter of sago starch. Screenshot: Sarawak Public Communications Unit YouTube livestream of Dr Rundi's ministerial winding-up speech on May 14, 2024

By Ashley Sim

KUCHING, May 14: Sarawak is currently the world’s sole exporter of sago starch, despite the fact that it is not a major sago growing area in comparison to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

According to Sarawak Minister for Food Industry, Commodity, and Regional Development (M-Ficord) Dato Sri Dr Stephen Rundi Utom, Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM) reported that Sarawak exported 35,000 metric tonnes of sago starch worth RM113 million in 2023, primarily to Peninsular Malaysia and Japan, which accounted for 41 per cent and 45 per cent of total export volume, respectively.


“Nevertheless, the sago starch export volume has not increased for the past 10 years due to the low and inconsistent supply of raw material (sago logs).

“The current production scenario shows the production rate is 1 metric tonne of starch per hectare per annum.

“One of the factors that contributed to the low production rate is 3T (Tanam, Tinggal, Tuai) which is the system practised by smallholders and also types of soil where the palms are planted,” he said during his ministerial winding-up speech on the seventh day of the Sarawak Legislative Assembly (DUS) sitting here today.

Dr Rundi also stated that the Sarawak government established the Sago and Nipah Development Board (SNDB) to promote, facilitate, and develop the sago and nipah industries as a new frontier to maximise economic returns and increase smallholders’ income, as well as to formulate strategic objectives, policies, and priorities for the orderly development and administration of both sago and nipah in Sarawak.

He went on to say that SNDB’s immediate plans include registering sago and nipah smallholders and industry players, establishing a pricing mechanism for sago logs and nipah products, identifying actual sago and nipah growing areas using artificial intelligence (AI), and increasing the productivity of sago and nipah growing areas.

“SNDB aims to boost sago production from the current smallholders’ areas spanning 32,747 hectares, which yielded only 7 per cent of the total output (35,000 metric tonnes) in 2023 valued at RM113 million.

“With the anticipated productivity rate of 15 tonnes per hectare per year at a price of RM2,500 per tonne and scaling up production to 40 per cent of the smallholders’ area (13,098 hectares), this would significantly enhance revenue for Sarawak reaching RM491.2 million annually,” he added.

Furthermore, he noted that in order to achieve the projection, an RM550 million budget is required to establish and improve infrastructure (RM90 million), acquire technology (RM325 million), and rehabilitate and maintain fields (RM135 million). — DayakDaily