Brunei Darussalam: New era for farming and food production

A drive to improve food security under way in Brunei Darussalam will see the government release land for livestock production, develop irrigation systems and step up cooperation with other countries. The move forms part of a broader bid to galvanise the agriculture sector into helping the Sultanate achieve food self-sufficiency in the longer term.

In March, the Minister of Industry and Primary Resources (MIPR) revealed plans to commit 1000 ha of land to livestock farming. Pehin Dato Paduka Bakar said the move would help reduce Brunei’s reliance on livestock imports from Australia, which was limiting domestic production. The land is expected to be used for concentrated animal feeding operations.

In the same month, the ministry said it would release details this year of an irrigation project earmarked for rice-farming sites in Belait. It added that Sengkuang, which spans 300 ha and houses the best paddy plantations in the Belait District, had been identified as a location for large-scale rice production. Infrastructure for the padi fields is now set to be upgraded.

Belait is also serving as a training hub for farming techniques and innovations, such as hybrid rice strains which form a vital part of self-sufficiency efforts, while the Rice Farmers Field School (RFFS) located there is playing a key role in providing farmers with management skills. The site produced a total of 232 tonnes of rice from 328 ha of padi during the 2011-12 period, according to the Department of Agriculture and Agrifood (DAA).

This is all in addition to the MIPR’s plans, announced in 2011, to increase padi farm hectarage by 285% to more than 5000 ha from the current 1300. Belait is earmarked to play a central role in plans to achieve 60% rice self-sufficiency by 2015. The Sultanate is already self-sufficient in the supply of poultry and eggs, and rice production rose to 2140 tonnes in 2011, up from 1649 tonnes the previous year.

Overall, Brunei Darussalam’s agricultural efforts are bearing fruit, with the value of gross production for agriculture and agrifood reaching a market price of $240.96m in 2011, up from $228.43m recorded the previous year.

Aside from training initiatives, the country has also developed its own rice strain, named Beras Titih, which could potentially yield eight to 10 tonnes per ha, significantly higher than its current levels of 1.74 tonnes per ha.

The head of the Brunei-Muara branch of the DAA’s Agricultural Development Unit, Sanah Burut, highlighted the progress farmers had made in production output since a large-scale padi planting initiative was launched in April 2009. “It is hoped that the rise in yields will continue and contribute towards achieving the targets set,” she said in February.

Mohd Shahlan Hidup, the chairman of Koperasi Setia Kawan Bhd, or KOSEKA, said training courses were important for passing on “critical” know-how. Topics covered included preparing the fields for planting, correct use of fertilizers, pest and disease management, and post-harvest management. Farmers also received training in the planting of rice seedlings, managing and identifying crop problems, and agronomy.

As a joint venture between the DAA and the Philippines Rice Research Institute, the RFFS represents one of several collaborative efforts the country has embarked upon with other Asian countries.

In April, Thai Ambassador Apichart Phetcharatana said he expected his country to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Sultanate this year on agriculture, covering areas such as rice production, fisheries, livestock, land development and water management. Under the agreement, Thailand, which is the world’s largest rice exporter, is expected to share its expertise in the field of rice production, while Brunei could advise Bangkok on the emerging halal food industry, having taken a global lead in the segment.

Cooperation with Vietnam could also be on the horizon after the country’s deputy minister of agriculture and rural development, Ngyuen Thi Xuan Thu, highlighted the potential she saw for collaboration in the field. The deputy minister told local media that Vietnam could help Brunei in its efforts to develop sustainable cattle farming and conduct research on local soil quality which would help improve agricultural production.

The DAA said in March that alongside its rice-based innovations, work was under way to identify fruits that could be improved through new technology such as tissue culture and cross-breeding. The country is also in the middle of a fruit and seed distribution campaign.

The broad range of initiatives augurs well for the development of the agricultural sector. However, if investor interest is to be boosted further, more details will need to be made available of government plans for irrigation and land release.

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