Prof Dr Kopli Bujang. Photo: Unimas

SAMARAHAN: In line with the state government’s efforts to increase Sarawak’s agricultural export, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) is in the final phase of preparing their products for commercialisation.

Led by Prof Dr Kopli Bujang, the research conducted by Unimas initially started in 2000, but it was not until 2010 when research on sago was intensified following the establishment of the Centre of Excellence in Sago Research (CoESAR).

During a courtesy visit to the Chief Minister’s Office on Feb 20, the team of researchers led by the university’s Vice Chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Mohamad Kadim Suaidi presented the progress of the nine-year research to Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg.

The briefing concluded their research findings on the commercial potential of sago and nipah-based products.

The leader of the research team, Prof Dr Kopli Bujang said, “The whole idea of the project is to empower the smallholders so that the products they produce are value-added.”

“Take for an example, the local product ‘air sadap’ which is literally the nipah sap, is sold at RM6 per litre,” he said.

“Individuals who make a living out of selling ‘air sadap’ for income go out as early as 4am or 5am to nipah areas, which naturally grows near river banks to collect nipah sap.

“They cannot be late because then they would be unable to get the sap when the high tide arises at around 7am. Not to mention other constrains like mosquitoes and various other possibilities of dangers and hazards associated in those areas,” he explained.

“Another difficulty is that the ‘air sadap’ does not last long. Within 2 to 3 hours, it will turn sour due to microbial activities which are naturally present in that environment. That is why nipah sap should be boiled immediately to make ‘gula apong’ (nipah sugar), which has a longer shelf-life,” he told the New Sarawak Tribune in Samarahan recently.

According to Kopli, 1kg of “gula apong” is made from about 10 litres of the nipah sap. The normal market price for one litre of nipah sap or “air sadap” is around RM6 to RM8, which means it costs between RM60 to RM80 to acquire 10 litres of nipah sap used to make 1kg of “gula apong”.

However, 1kg of “gula apong” in the market costs around RM6to RM8. Thus, there is an imbalanced conversion from 10 litres of nipah sap (worth RM60 to RM80) to make 1kg of nipah sugar worth RM6 to RM8 per kg.

“That is why our goal is to create a solution of how we can add value to ‘gula apong’ and at the same time, help the villagers to boost their economy,” said Kopli.

Kopli also stated that the overall project aimed to reduce environmental pollution.

“Normally, the people would just dump the sago water and ‘hampas’ (solids after filtration of sago affluent) into rivers which is not good for the environment but we cannot blame this because there is no proper solution proposed to the sago millers,” he said.

“So we took the waste such as sago water, hampas and fronds, and we use them as our raw materials. We have cultured Spirulina in sago wastewater and have bountiful harvest within just 20 days. We have also produced sago sugar (glucose) from sago hampas at a yield of 50 per cent by weight.

“These means we are creating a business line for these products with zero capital to get the essential materials. Once commercialised, sago millers will see these wastes as assets and not a liability – and we get a cleaner environment as the overall results,” he explained.