The Ministry of Modernisation of Agriculture, Native Customary Rights Land and Regional Development, after the recent Cabinet reshuffle, has been assigned a strategic role in modernising the agriculture sector and accelerating the development of the region and native customary rights land. Undoubtedly, the role is crucial to accelerate economic growth and the overall development of the State under the Socio-Economic Transformation Plan (SETP).

Its main objectives are to eradicate poverty especially the hardcore poor, increase the income of farmers to RM4,000 per household by 2020, reduce income disparity between urban and rural areas, achieve food self-sufficiency and food security and  be the net exporter of agriculture produce by 2020 and beyond.

The Ministry, to realise the objectives, will implement transformational initiatives namely modernisation and commercialisation of the agricultural sector, acceleration of Native Land Development and consolidation and streamlining of all Regional Development programmes and projects.

Hence, it must consider other development approaches and adopt new business models that can accelerate agricultural growth in order to bring about agriculture transformation and achieve a quantum leap in agriculture production and trade. This will help to raise the income of the rural communities.

Essentially, the new business models must be able to harness the financial resources and business acumen of the private sector, while leveraging on their management and technical expertise.

The Minister of Modernisation of Agriculture, Native Customary Rights Land and Regional Development, Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas, in his winding speech during the debate on the Motion of Thanks to the Yang di-Pertua Negeri, Tun Pehin Sri Haji Abdul Taib Mahmud for his opening speech, in the just-concluded sitting of the State Legislative Assembly, said  the focus on Regional Development is timely and strategic as it is vital in  endeavour to achieve a balanced development and to reduce regional disparities in the State.

Essentially, a balanced development is critical to enable the State to leverage on the vast development potentials of an area according to its resources, so that the economic benefits derived are shared and enjoyed by the people of all regions, all races in the State.

He reiterated his Ministry’s full commitment to implement the new thrusts in a strategic new direction. In 2016, the agriculture sector contributed 13.7 per cent to the State’s economy and provided approximately 300,000 employment opportunities.

More importantly, the agriculture sector has contributed in eradicating poverty and uplifting the livelihood of the rakyat (people) especially those in the rural areas. Thus, concerted efforts will be pursued by the Ministry to further develop and increase the contribution of this important sector to the State economy.

Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah said his Ministry was taking steps to revamp the land approval process to accelerate the development of NCR land in rural areas. The new process is intended to ensure that development of NCR land can be implemented speedily by investors and the landowners

This means that agriculture businesses must be developed and managed by corporate entities, which must be prepared to play bigger roles in developing and managing commercial agriculture to ensure commercial viability and reduce the financial burden on the Government.

Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah said the past and present efforts of Government to commercialise the agriculture sector have generally been focusing on providing subsidies to smallholder producers and entrepreneurs. Such subsidies are usually in the form of production inputs, materials and small equipment.

As the approach focuses on primary production and does not address issues along the supply chain, past attempts to address issues have not been effective and serious bottlenecks still remain in the agriculture supply chain. Besides, there is not enough attention being given to post-harvest handling, value-added processing and marketing.

He said the other major weakness in the present smallholders system is the lack of organised efforts that can ensure reliability of supply in terms of volume and product quality that the market demands.

Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah said his Ministry through the Department of Agriculture is implementing geospatial data mapping on cropped areas for planning purposes. The small farm sizes and scattered distribution of crops, especially pepper in the State, has created a big challenge to map out the cropped areas using satellite images.

Hence, drone technology is the better option to capture up to the level of plant stand count. To-date, the Ministry has successfully used the drone to capture images on the pepper farms and rubber block plantings.

Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah said Malaysia imported about 3.64 million metric tonne worth RM3.12 billion of grain corn in 2015. Sarawak alone imported about 291,000 metric tonnes worth RM261 million. The bulk of the corn is vital to the growth of the livestock and aquaculture industries.

He said the State Government, in line with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) initiative to reduce dependency on imported grain corn, is implementing programmes to produce grain corn locally.

In this connection, the Ministry of Modernisation of Agriculture, Native Customary Rights Land and Regional Development and the Integrated Agriculture Development Area (IADA) Kalaka-Saribas, for a start, will carry out pilot projects on grain corn planting to gather enough field data before embarking on a larger scale planting.

The State Government would look into commercial planting of grain corn locally through the participation of smallholders and private sectors if the pilot project is proven to be feasible.

Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah said efforts would be made to intensify the implementation of the NCR Land Development Concept, which is a joint venture between the private sector and NCR landowners, to improve the livelihood of the rural communities.

He said his Ministry felt that there should be further improvement to be made to the existing

NCR-JV Model to bring forth greater benefits to the landowners. For this reason, the Ministry is proposing the Leasing Model as an alternative development model to complement the existing JV Model.

He said the proposed Leasing Model will be based on an agreed fixed monthly rental per hectare between the landowner and the Investor. Under this arrangement, payment of rental will commence from first year of planting and continue over the lease period of 60 years.

Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah said one of the critical components of the Leasing Model is the quantum of rental, which should be acceptable to both the landowner and the Investor. The Leasing Model will ensure immediate, consistent and sustainable returns to the NCR landowners. This is a good and practical model to accelerate NCR land development

He said the State Government has put in place various development models for Regional Development in the forms of Rural Growth Centres (RGCs), Highland Development Agency, Agropolitan, Integrated Agricultural Development Areas (IADAs) and Upper Rejang Development Agency (URDA).25

In this regards, the Ministry has decided to revamp the concept and mode of the implementation for Rural Growth Centers (RGC) in spearheading regional development primarily to engage with the various stakeholders in formulating strategic plan.

Datuk Amar Douglas said the main role of State Strategic Coordinating committee of Rural Economy (JKPSELB) is to set policy direction, plan, coordinate, monitor and evaluate the implementation of approved programs and projects for the rural economy. The committee coordinates programs and projects of 31 Federal and State Agencies. Since its establishment, the committee has conducted four meetings.

He said the divisional rural economy transformation committees, being chaired by Residents, have been established in all divisions with the Divisional Department of Agriculture as Secretariat to support the main committee.  Members of the committee comprise the relevant State and Federal Agencies and Statutory Bodies.

The committee, in executing its function, has to engage with the various stakeholders to seek their views, suggestions and concerns on the implementation of rural transformation programmes and projects.

Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah said a total of 65 out of 82 registered vessels or 79% of them have docked and landed their catches at Tanjung Manis Integrated Fishing Port. The fish landing at the port has increased by 58% from 12,000 metric tonnes in 2015 to 19,000 metric tonnes in 2016.

In this connection, the Fisheries Development Board Malaysia at Tanjung Manis is being able to generate a net revenue of about RM460,000 in 2016 as against losses incurred in 2015 totalling RM749,000. As of April this year, the total revenue collected is RM617,726.

He attributed the success to the stern actions taken by the State Government and the close cooperation among the various agencies namely; Fisheries Development Board, Maritime Enforcement Agency, Marine Fisheries Department, Marine Department Sarawak and Royal Customs Department.

He said his Ministry would continue to monitor closely the situation to ensure that the set regulations are complied by the deep sea fishing license holders.

Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah said the State Government is committed to implement the key initial interventions based on the recommendations by the Cabinet Committee on Socio-Economic Transformation, which has six Key Result Areas to speed-up the economic growth. One of the key areas will be to increase investment in the industrial sector and SMEs participation especially in oil and gas and timber downstream industries

The other key areas will be to modernize and commercialize the agriculture sector by enhancing the overall supply chain of the agriculture industry to raise income of farmers and create new growth in the services sector with special focus on tourism industry that will create tremendous spin off to the domestic economy.

The remaining areas will be to increase business opportunities in urban centers through urban development and urban renewal, increase participation in the entrepreneurship and develop landfills and waste management facilities that are environmentally friendly and to enhance the protection and conservation of lakes, water catchments and forest.

Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah said his Ministry would be promoting the Anchor Out-Grower Farming approach that will leverage on the strength and capacity of the private sector as the Anchor Farmer in large scale farming in major food production areas.

The anchor farm would act as a prime mover in driving the production of large volume of quality agricultural product and at the same time provide assured market access for smallholder producers, which will become the grower farmers, to the anchor farm that will be linked to contract farming mechanism.

He said the agreed quantity, quality standards and price of agricultural produce will be determined through negotiations between the anchor company and the smallholder growers.

In this regards, the Ministry of Modernisation of Agriculture, Native Customary Rights Land and Regional Development, to

complement this initiative, has planned to set up several Collecting, Processing and Packaging Centers (CPPC) at strategic locations in the State. The Department of Agriculture and Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (FAMA) will work closely to ensure the efficient marketing operation of the CPPC.

The Ministry, with the anchor farming and CPPC initiatives put in place, hopes to enhance the production of large volume of quality agricultural produce and resolve the marketing issues being faced by the smallholder growers.

Datuk Amar Douglas assured that his Ministry, in full support of the State’s agenda to develop the digital Economy, will give high emphasis on the application of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) along the whole value and supply chain in developing the agriculture sector in the State.

Generally, the Ministry will encourage more commercial farmers or private companies to venture into a high-tech agricultural production technology such as precision farming in the State.