Tropi ‘crippled’ after research funds axed

Harvested oil palm fruits. — file pic

By Lian Cheng

KUCHING, Nov 22: Sarawak Tropical Peat Research Institute (Tropi) director Dr Lulie Melling lamented that the recent cut of research funds of RM3 million has crippled the laboratory.

Despite Sarawak having been receiving palm oil cess of RM53 million in 2017, she just could not understand why the allocation was cut. That drove her to question whether there was any hidden agenda.

“Over these years, Sarawak has been paying oil palm cess; and in 2017, it amounted to RM53 million. Yet, our allocation of a mere RM3 million was recently terminated.

“Our research progress had been greatly crippled by the withdrawal of the much-needed resources, just as Tropi has started to run as a world-class laboratory. We cannot help but feel that this has motives other than our research output,” she said at Tropi’s 10th anniversary gathering at Tropi here last night.

She said Tropi had embarked on the management of nutrients and plant diseases studies, focusing on monocrop that is more susceptible to diseases.

This latest development, she said, was crucial in supporting Sarawak to achieve its 2 million hectares of oil palm target.

“This is critical to support the state’s target to increase palm oil plantation to 2.0 million hectares and about 50 per cent of our oil palm is grown on peatland.

“Any disease incidence can result in loss of revenue for the state to the tune of hundreds of millions of ringgit a year,” she said.

In line with the state’s effort to diversify into other sources of income from the agriculture sector, she said Tropi would also undertake research on other alternative crops to oil palm.

“This will be the future strategic direction of Tropi for the next 10 years; and for this, the Sarawak government’s financial support for Tropi is vital,” she emphasised.

She said aside from the world-class facilities contained in its building, Tropi’s research was also conducted extensively in the fields where it mattered most.

“In this respect, another very important asset to our research facilities is the successful establishment of 40m Eddy-Covariance Towers located in three locations — Sibu, Betong and Maludam, which were built with one goal.

“With our close collaboration with both Hokkaido University and the National Institute of Environment Japan (NIES), we have managed to develop one of the best research support teams in South East Asia, and we are the only group in the country that has successfully managed the Eddy Tower by ourselves,” she said.

On human capital, Lulie said to date, Tropi managed to produce five PhDs and four Masters graduates through funding from the state government, the Japanese government, the Japan Yoshida Foundation and Ta Ann Oil Palm Plantation.

“The high standard of our PhD graduates have allowed them to successfully publish their research papers in high-impact journals in their respective fields. Their sterling successes have in turn helped Tropi to further win both national and international recognition.

“And our works on tropical peatland have one of the highest citations in the world. Through these publications, we have been invited by NASA to participate in both the Methane (CH4) Synthesis Group and ECOSTRESS — The Ecosystem Space borne Thermal Radiometer Experiment at the Space Station,” said Lulie. — DayakDaily