SLIDES in commodity prices and retrenchments due to Covid-19 may set back the rural economy and aggravate the rural poverty rate in Sarawak.
However, there are multiple pathways to reduce rural poverty not just in the short but also in the long term. And one is to help rural households venture into the agriculture sector, allowing them to be more productive and integrated into the markets.
Government assistance in this regard is key to eradicating poverty, hunger, and malnutrition, particularly in rural areas where most of the poor households are found.
To increase the productivity and income of small-scale farmers, their earnings can be diversified through value chain development with more and better jobs created for the
rural poor. To sustain such initiatives, continued assistance may be needed for a certain period.
With weak commodity prices and healthy demand for agriculture food due to the growing population and changing lifestyles, it’s timely to encourage or even assist rural smallholders to capitalise on agricultural production to allow for higher returns and ensure sufficient supply of food in the local context.
The state government seems to be moving in that direction and has even called on its assemblymen to identify areas in their constituencies suitable for modern agriculture in the hope to help create more cluster farms for cash crops.
Cluster farming is one of the initiatives taken to help achieve Sarawak’s vision of becoming a net food exporter by 2030.
For a start, RM9 million has been allocated for implementing the Agriculture Community Outreach Programme (AgriCop) to introduce planting technology, pest control, and good agricultural practices (myGAP) to farmers throughout Sarawak.
In the interior, where clusters have been established, infrastructure such as farm roads may be built in a more orderly manner, further facilitating the transportation of agricultural products to the market.
One of the areas which has responded to the programme and implemented cluster farming is Serembu in Bau.
Assemblyman Miro Simuh said he had leveraged on the state government’s initiatives and allocations to promote cluster farming as he sees the scheme as a great opportunity to develop and create employment in his constituency.
He believes Serembu folk could contribute towards the realisation of the state government’s vision of being a net food exporter.
Miro revealed that 69 families are currently planting MD2 pineapples, baby corn, and bentong ginger.
Of the total, 19 and 32 are planting MD2 pineapples and baby corn respectively in the Krokong area, with 18 planting ginger in Kampung Gumbang.
“About 100 acres of Native Customary Rights (NCR) land have been allocated for planting the three cash crops.
“The MD2 pineapple cluster covers about 30 acres, the baby corn cluster about 40 acres, and the ginger cluster about 30 acres,” he added.
Under the programme, the participants have to clear their land and plant while the allocations are used to build a road and provide seeds and seedlings.
Miro said an RM500,000 allocation was secured from the Ministry of Modernisation of Agriculture, Native Land and Regional Development to help the participants.
Of the amount, RM150,000 had been used for implementing the pineapple cluster, while RM200,000 and RM150,000 for developing the baby corn and ginger clusters respectively.
“The key objectives are to increase agricultural output and productivity, raise rural living standards, improve market access and support agribusiness, especially for the B40 group.
“My target is to make these cluster projects the catalyst for our people to prove to themselves that they can succeed in the agriculture industry. A collection centre will be set up at every cluster
to market the produce,” he
Miro said the Sibandi agricultural area at Kampung Merembeh, Bau, had also been identified for cattle rearing in his constituency, adding that the road leading to the designated land had been constructed while clearing was being done for the feedlot and barn for cows.
“The cattle rearing will be done on 40 acres of land, of which 30 acres are for the grass field and 10 for the barn and feed processing.
“It’s not going to be a free-range rearing concept as the cows will be kept and fed in the barn.”
According to him, about RM250,000 has been secured from the Ministry of Modernisation of Agriculture, Native Land and Regional Development in 2019 to implement the project.
A total of 12 families will be involved and assisted by the Department of Veterinary Services, starting with 100 calves.
“This is a catalyst project for the people, especially in my constituency, to learn the business of animal rearing.
“Who knows, if the project in the Sibandi agricultural area proves successful, our people may also want to start rearing goats,” he said.
Miro expects to see 2,000 heads of cows being reared at Sibandi in five years, believing that the venture can be a good income source for the local community wishing to get into animal rearing.
Beef is said to be in high demand in Sarawak, which is only 15 per cent self-sufficient in the commodity. About 85 per cent available in the local market is imported.
“I see this project as viable. It can be successful and sustainable,” he noted.
Miro said some 120 acres at Kampung Penin’au would be developed for wet rice planting.
A sum of RM25,000 had been approved to upgrade the irrigation system with assistance from the Department of Irrigation and Drainage.
The wet padi project to be carried out by 16 families would be able to yield 300 tonnes of grain per year.
Miro said coffee is another cash crop to be planted in the constituency, involving 24 families in Kampung Tringus, Krokong.
He added that the project in which each family would manage three acres, was expected to start soon with special funds from the Ministry of Modernisation of Agriculture, Native Land and Regional Development.
“From this project, we are targeting to produce 50 tonnes of coffee beans annually,” he added.