By Geryl Ogilvy
KUCHING, Jan 10: The Sarawak government will seek to persuade young entrepreneurs to venture into agriculture amidst the ageing and declining farming population, said Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas.
Currently, most farmers in the state are above 55-years-old.
If Sarawak hopes to achieve its goal of becoming a net exporter of food products by 2030 and become competitive in the global market, it needs to “up the ante” in the farming sector.
Engaging entrepreneurs to empower the agriculture sector with modern farming methods would also create more jobs.
“Youths and young entrepreneurs are starting to penetrate the agriculture sector and get involved in modern farming, but we need to attract more of the younger generation to become agropreneurs.
“It is important to attract young farmers that can utilise modern technologies such as precision farming using the Internet of Things (IoT) to increase food production.
“Moving forward, we need to start producing a high volume of quality products and food crops to spur our food industry and becoming competitive in the global market,” Uggah said in his “Agriculture Address 2019” to over 400 staff and officers from agencies under his ministry at UCSI Hotel here today.
The one-day event, part of a ministerial team-building and networking exercise, was attended by staff from the ministry, Agriculture Department, Veterinary Services Department and Sarawak Land Development Board, including the Farmers’ Organisation Authority and Sarawak Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (Salcra).
Uggah, who is also Modernisation of Agriculture, Native Land and Regional Development Minister, said Sarawak is currently is a net importer of food products, spending between RM3.4 billion and RM3.6 billion annually.
The ministry is also looking to set up more community-based farming, where villagers could combine their workforce and focus on specific food crops.
“Community-based enterprises, involving the whole community, would see the villagers work together to produce a big volume of products. This system is akin to the ‘one district, one product’ programme.
“This is one way we can improve the rural economy, reduce the incidence of rural poverty and bridge the rural-urban income gap,” Uggah continued.
The ministry also outlined several strategies that will be aggressively pursued this year, including facilitating Public-Private Sector Partnerships (PPP) in agricultural businesses and encouraging private sector investments in the sector.
It is also looking to develop agriculture entrepreneurship, especially among the youths, and improve the delivery system to ensure complete integrity of the supply and value chain, with special emphasis on marketing.
“We must leverage on our strengths and comparative advantages, including our vast land and water resources as well as our rich biodiversity.
“At the same time, we must leverage on new technology for higher competitiveness and to enhance the agriculture industry through the adoption of digital technology,” Uggah explained.
Among the PPP models that would be set up include anchor company partnerships to collect farming produce for processing into other food products.
The state is also looking to develop more Collection, Processing and Packaging Centres, agro-parks, Rural Growth Centres, agropolitan projects, livestock farming areas, aquaculture industry zones and plantation development.
Uggah expressed content with the RM450.2 million allocation from the state government to develop the agriculture sector for this year, which is an increase of RM227 million or 101 per cent over the 2018 budget.
He added that RM100 million would be allocated for venture capital. An additional RM100 million is also available this year (upon request) for the Agriculture Facilitation Programme.
Apart from continuous market support for commodities such as oil palm, rubber, pepper and sago, the ministry has also identified “champion industries” that offer best commercial potential.
This includes food crops such as pineapple, durian, banana, coconut and paddy; livestock and products such as cattle, buffalo, goats and edible bird’s nest; as well as aquaculture products such as shrimps, ‘jelawat’ (carp), tilapia and ‘siakap’ (sea bass) amongst others. — DayakDaily