By Nigel Edgar
KUCHING, March 22: Sago palm farmers want a special body to regulate sago farming and commercialisation as well as to look after their well-being.
Craun Research Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Zaidell Hussaini said while other commodity crops had boards — like Malaysian Pepper Board and Malaysia Palm Oil Board — to look after them, there was none for sago growers.
He said Sarawak is one of the top exporters of sago flour in the world but without a board of its own, it is difficult for the smallholders and small farmers to keep up with competing commodities, especially oil palm, in terms of income.
“It’s not really about marketing but about productivity. Currently, the export of sago flour for Sarawak has been plateauing between 40,000kg and 50,000kg annually for the last 20 years.
“It shows that there is no increase in the number of production of sago logs, but if you are to reflect back at the number of acreage that smallholders in Sarawak have, it is around 40,000 hectares.
“And if you equate that with the level of export, it doesn’t tally,” he told reporters after paying a courtesy call on Minister of Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development Dato Sri Fatimah Abdullah here today.
He also revealed that 60 per cent of sago produced in the state were being exported to the peninsula, 30 per cent to Japan, and the rest consumed locally. The price of sago flour is more than RM2,000 per tonne, he shared.
Zaidell said rather than increasing the acreage of sago plantation, Craun Research is working on increasing the yield from existing sago plantations.
He said currently, the yield of sago flour from sago logs is about 40 per cent with the traditional method. This is considered very inefficient.
Thus, Craun Research is organising a Sago Industry Seminar 2019 slated for Oct 31, 2019, at Kingwood Resort in Mukah to expose sago smallholders and small farmers to use efficient method of extracting sago from the sago logs to up to 80 per cent.
“All this while, we have been trying to increase the production level, but we are also competing with oil palm in terms of areas. So, what we are propagating now is not to get new areas. Just focus on existing areas and increase productivity.
“We will introduce technology for this smallholders so they can increase production. At the same time, we will also have to look at the pricing mechanism for the commodity,” said Zaidell.
Fatimah, who is also Dalat assemblywoman, said sago is very close to the heart of the Melanau community in her area. Dalat is a sago producing area.
She said for some, especially the farmers, it is their main source of income. She thanked Craun Research for embarking on an effort to help improve the production of sago from the smallholders and small farmers.
“To me Craun (Research) plays a very important role in terms of research, upstream or downstream, that can be shared with small farmers and smallholders to increase their income,” she said.
She revealed that eight divisions in the state have sago plantations: Kuching (1ha), Sri Aman (42ha), Sibu (386ha), Miri (1ha), Sarikei (1,433ha), Mukah (40,642ha), Bintulu (342ha) and Betong (3,921ha).
Based on analytical studies on sago starch and its properties, Fatimah said sago, with its naturally high resistant starch content, could help improve the immune system, control glucose level in the body and encourages growth of healthy bacteria in the guts.
“Also, due to the increased awareness in healthy diet now, sago flour is also gluten-free, contains antioxidant and, more importantly, it is organic,” she shared. — Dayakdaily