Betong to ‘take-off’ with new airport

File photo: A rendered image of the Bebuling Airport.

It may sound ridiculous some 30 years ago for anyone to suggest building an airport in the middle of nowhere, like in the Betong Division, but with the potential the place has, it is now a necessity to bring its agricultural produce to a wider market, including overseas.

Plans are afoot to build a short take-off and landing airport (STOLport) in Spaoh, one of the small towns in Betong, and last Saturday, Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg handed over the construction agreement document to the successful tender bidder for the project, DAL Keluarga Realty Cara Raya JV Sdn Bhd. 

Construction of the RM108.1 million airport, which will be a game-changer in strengthening Betong’s agriculture industry, is expected to be completed in 30 months.

Over the years, agricultural produce from Betong, located about 250km from Sarawak’s capital city of Kuching, is transported by lorries, which is the only means of transportation,  to the markets here

The journey, which could take up to five hours, will be a secondary choice when the STOLport is fully operational, according to Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas.

With access to aeroplanes, Uggah who is Bukit Saban Assemblyman, one of the state constituents in Betong, said agricultural products like fruits and vegetables from Betong could be shipped faster and still fresh when they reached consumers.

“We need to start increasing production from now, as in three years,  the Spaoh STOLport will be ready to airlift our produce to the markets,” he said.

This improvement in transportation and the push to increase production is part of the Sarawak government’s vision to develop Betong into a modern agriculture centre,  as well as to make it one of the state’s food baskets by 2030.

He said Sarawak’s tilapia fish and “midin” vegetable are in demand by some countries, like Singapore.

To cope with this demand, he said the state government had started several projects in Betong, including the development of an agricultural product collecting, processing and packaging centre (CPPC) and an entrepreneur incubator station. 

Uggah,  who also the State  Agriculture Modernisation, Native Land and Regional Development Minister, said the CPPC would allow farmers to sell agriculture products like vegetables, rambutans, coconuts, pineapples and durians during bumper harvests.

“The incubator station, to be manned by officers from the Agriculture Department, would also train women in Betong on the art of bakery and confectionery,” he added.

Apart from focusing on agriculture, the state government would also set up new commercial areas, build clinics, government buildings and housing projects, he said, adding that a bridge would also be built across the Paku River, as part of an immediate plan to improve Spaoh’s infrastructure, he added.

“This plan will also include building a new administrative centre, improvements to the drainage and irrigation system and construction of more roads to form a network that would facilitate mobility for the Spaoh community to carry out their economic and social activities,” he said.

Uggah said with these plans in hand, Betong which is one of the 12 divisions in Sarawak is set to take off flying towards ‘the sky’ with better opportunity and progress that will benefit its over 100,000 population. 

“It is for the people themselves to realise and strengthen Spaoh’s anticipated progress and prosperity by going into modern farming. The people must agree to accept these new ways for better harvests and income while remaining united in supporting the government,” he added. – Bernama