Uggah challenges agriculture research officers to break new ground

Dr Abdul Rahman (front row, fifth from left) in a group photo with all the research officers after officiating at the ROPM 2018. Also seen are (front row, from fourth from left) Ik Pahon, Rolland and Chai.

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By Karen Bong

KUCHING, Dec 4: The Sarawak government wants the Department of Agriculture to focus on production, innovation and research on durians, bananas, pineapples and coconuts to meet local and overseas market demands as well as push farmers’ monthly income to at least RM4,000 by 2030.

For instance, Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas said research officers could look into converting by-products or wastes from crops and plants into commercial products, such as bio-compost for organic farming and animal feed.

“Large-scale planting for most crops are bound to generate a large volume of crop waste. For bananas, for instance, there would be crop waste from fruit peduncles, pseudostems, leaves and peels that could be converted into bio-compost and animal feed,” he said at the launching of the Research Officers’ Progress Meeting (ROPM) 2018 here today.

His text-of-speech was read out by Assistant Minister of Agriculture Dr Abdul Rahman Ismail.

Uggah also suggested research into other edible parts of crops to further diversify its use and turning them into value-added products, such as the tender core of young banana pseudostems and the male flowers, which have been reported to be rich in nutrients.

With another RM1 million approved to continue with the Banana New Planting Programme, he hoped the department would assist farmers by providing technical support to ensure productivity and sustainability of their farms.

As for durian, Uggah, who is also Minister of Modernisation of Agriculture, Native Land and Regional Development (Manred), said research officers should actively identify good quality local and indigenous durians that could be promoted and commercialised.

“There are about 400,000 matured durian trees throughout the state. However, Sarawak was not able to capitalise on its existing durian trees due to poor farm management, resulting in unproductive trees, lack of processing facilities and poor coordination among the stakeholders,” he highlighted.

In view of these constraints, he emphasised that funds had been allocated for next year to continue with the pilot Durian Rehabilitation Programme and extend it to more divisions in Sarawak as well as implementing a Durian New Planting Programme for smallholders.

Another fruit crop that possesses export potential is the pineapple. Uggah said there was high market demand overseas for fresh and pineapple-related products.

He shared that the well-known MD2 variety had been identified for commercial planting because of its good eating quality and long shelf-life.

“The department must actively promote the planting of pineapples through smallholders and increase private sector participation,” he said while reminding that the state is aiming to achieve 100,000 hectares of pineapple farms by 2030.

“To achieve this goal, the department has to work closely with both smallholders and the private sector. To get started, a sum of RM2 million is allocated for the Pineapple New Planting Programme for next year, and I do hope that the department can implement the programme as planned,” he added.

As for coconut, Uggah encouraged research officers to take up the challenge of finding alternative methods to mass propagate the crop to meet state demand as the availability of planting materials was one of the constraints of large-scale planting.

He also touched on the need to increase the state’s rice self-sufficiency level to that of the nation, which is 70 per cent.

“At present, the state has to import rice as it produces about 53 per cent of its requirement. To achieve that goal, research officers should assess new high yielding rice varieties developed elsewhere and introduce them to our farmers once proven to be adaptive to our local climatic conditions,” he said.

To tackle workforce limitation and enhance farm efficiency and productivity, he suggested that research officers look into the use of machinery and modern technologies that were suitable for local conditions.

“To achieve our goal to become a net food exporter by 2030, the department needs to leverage on the smart partnership between public and private sectors,” he said.

Noting that eight smart partnerships had been sealed, he, however, reminded that the collaborations must benefit local smallholders and enhance the knowledge and skills of research officers.

ROPM is an annual event for research officers from the Crop Research Division, Inland Fisheries Division and Soil Management Branch of Department of Agriculture Sarawak.

The objectives of the three-day programme, which started today, were for research officers to present their research findings for information and benefit of officers in the department and present progress updates of their current research projects and proposals for the coming year.

Assistant Minister of Native Land Development Datuk Rolland Sagah Wee Inn, Permanent Secretary to Manred Datu Ik Pahon Joyik, acting director of Agriculture Sarawak Dr Alvin Chai as well as senior officers from Manred and the department were among those present. — DayakDaily