Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas

KUCHING: The state government is implementing a formula which includes efforts to improve food productivity and meet international food safety requirements in line with Sarawak’s goal of becoming a net food exporter by 2030. 

Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas said that in order to achieve this target, food production in the state must be upgraded to meet the international market’s food safety requirements, which varied according to country.

“That is why we are trying to look for a model which we hope will be able to leapfrog Sarawak in this direction. Hence, we decided to go for anchor companies,” he said in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.

“If we were to develop this kind of industry from scratch, it would take us at least 10 to 15 years. So it really helps to have an anchor company which already has the standards of planting and processing facilities, as well as meeting international standards and having the market.”

He said that one of the anchor companies successfully adopted by the state government was Top Fruits Sdn Bhd, which focused on durian products.

Uggah, who is also Modernisation of Agriculture, Native Land and Regional Development Minister, said that the state government was also working on developing its food basket area in addition to collection, processing, and packaging centres (CPPCs).

In terms of increasing Sarawak’s food productivity to be able to compete with other food producers, he said this was where current technology such as Internet of Things (IoT) could be implemented.

“We must be fully aware that Sarawak is competing with West Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, and so on.

“So we must be efficient enough in terms of our food quality, productivity, and cost. With this strategic approach, we can reach our target of being a net exporter of food products.”

He pointed out that Sarawak was already exporting tilapia from Batang Ai and pigs from the Simunjan area to Singapore.

According to Uggah, the state was now attracting foreign experts and companies which had the technology and market.

“We are also attracting numerous local successful entrepreneurs and this will help to enhance the food production industry here.

“One of them is selling banana chips to China while another is Poh Lian Vegetable Sdn Bhd, which is producing vegetables all over Sarawak.”

He said the next strategy was how to ensure that the 250,000 smallholders in Sarawak were able to take advantage of these new approaches and opportunities.

Furthermore, he said that the state government was providing financial assistance for farmers such as venture capitals and subsidies. 

Touching on the background of the shift towards concentrating on food products, he said that over the last 30 years, Sarawak’s focus had been on commodity products as these were easily marketable.

However, he said that the state had decided not to expand further on oil palm, in compliance with Malaysia’s international sustainability policy – under which Malaysia was planting a maximum of six million hectares of oil palm, with Sarawak planting about two million hectares.

“Our Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg also sees that with the vast lands that we have, we should be able to develop our food products, so this is where the focus is now. Previously, these were planted mainly as subsistence farming.

“We are currently a net importer of about RM3.8bil worth of food products, including beef, vegetables, ginger, chilli, and more.”