Sarawak gula apong products exported to Hong Kong, South Korea, New Zealand, Canada

Dr Rundi shows the Sago and Nipah Development Board Bill, 2022.

By Ling Hui

KUCHING, Feb 16: Hong Kong, South Korea, New Zealand, and Canada are importing Sarawak palm sugar (gula apong) products through a Kuching-based company.

Minister of Modernisation of Agriculture and Regional Development Dato Sri Dr Stephen Rundi Utom said the State is supplying these countries with natural sugar, gula apong spread, granules and syrup.

In 2021, he added, Sarawak exported gula apong products valued at RM1.93 million and generated RM3.38 million from local sales.

Other than food products, nipah palm, the plant from which gula apong is harvested, also has significant potential to produce biofuel in the form of bio-ethanol, according to recent studies by Centre for International Forestry Research (Cifor).

“Nipah palm has the potential to produce twice the amount of ethanol per hectare as compared to sugar cane and four times that of corn,” said Dr Rundi when tabling the Sago and Nipah Development Board Bill, 2022 in the Sarawak Legislative Assembly (DUN) sitting here today.

The bill proposes to establish the Sago and Nipah Development Board (SNDB) which will function to explore the potential of nipah palm and sago which grow abundantly in Sarawak.

The set up of SNDB, Dr Rundi said, is an initiative under the purview of the Ministry of Modernisation of Agriculture and Regional Development to promote, facilitate and develop the nipah and sago industries as new frontiers to maximise economic returns and increase smallholders’ income.

The board will also formulate strategic objectives, policies and priorities for the orderly development and administration of both the nipah and sago sectors in Sarawak.

Once the bill is passed, SNDB’s jurisdiction will encompass all upstream and downstream activities of the nipah and sago industries including the planting, processing and utilisation of nipah and sago, production of nipah sap and sago starch, and manufacturing of nipah and sago products and their derivatives.

All these activities will be regulated by the implementation of registration and licensing schemes and enforcement activities.

In Sarawak, nipah palm or ‘Nypa fruticans’ covers an area of about 111,351 hectares, as a natural component of mangrove forests and covers extensive areas along the coast, estuaries, and riparian zones of rivers.

Sarawak farmers have been using nipah palm to produce gula apong which is considered a healthy organic substitute for synthetic sugar and ideal for diabetics, overweight people and the health-conscious.

Gula apong is also often used as a sweetener and an ingredient in food and confectionery products like pastries and local delicacies. — DayakDaily