Agriculture plays an important role in the country’s economic growth as it is an excellent way to earn a living, making society to be self-sufficient and sustainable by producing their own food.
His Majesty the Sultan has been supportive and constantly encouraging the nation to be self-reliant through farming especially in rice production – our staple food.
In a previous report, Brunei’s rice production in 2017 has amounted to 1,527 metric tonnes with a metric value of $3.63million which production area totaled to 919 hectares.
These figures were revealed by the Department of Agriculture and Agrifood (DAA) at the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism during a visit from Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sindhorm of Thailand in 2018 to the rice plantation at the Wasan Agricultural Development Area in Mukim Pengkalan Batu.
Although the numbers are quite promising, there are several challenges that farmers need to face in order to ensure rice production is increasing.
Some of the obstacles include climate, insufficient irrigation infrastructure, low rice productivity, limited sources of water for irrigation and limited areas for rice production.
However, several measures have been outlined to improve local production that include the use of technology, alternative sources of water, better current irrigation infrastructure, capacity-building and improvement in post-harvest management.
Sembada 188: High-yield paddy variety to increase rice sufficiency
In a bid to further boost the national rice output, the government of His Majesty the Sultan has introduced the high-yield paddy variety Sembada188 which was planted in October 2018 by His Majesty.
The latest paddy strain is capable of increasing the country’s sufficiency rate to 11 per cent by 2020.
The Indonesian paddy gene is expected to yield six metric tonnes of paddy per hectare per season – doubled the amount produced by Laila paddy variety.
Primary Resources and Tourism Minister Yang Berhormat Dato Seri Setia Hj Ali Apong said that the new strain could increase Brunei’s annual paddy production volume up to 6,000 metric tonnes by 2020.
The minister previously estimated that Brunei’s Sembada188 production rate to increase to 4,000 metric tonnes annually by 2020 should all farmers shifted to the new strain and fully utilize their plantation spaces.
According to him, the government however, would not be restricting farmers if they still want to plant Laila.
“But naturally, they will have to go for strains that will give them higher production rates and profit,” he said.
The planting of the new hybrid high-yielding paddy strain was first inaugurated by His Majesty the Sultan in Wasan Agricultural Development Area in October 2018.
The paddy which strain matured within 110 days was then harvested in February this year which first commercial harvest was reaped by His Majesty.
For the Sembada188 planting, the government has leased 38.2 hectares of land in Wasan to 21 farmers from Koperasi Setia Kawan (KOSEKA) and Pangkalan Batu Mukim Consultative Council members.
By April, the land area for growing the hybrid paddy is expected to expand to 60 hectares.
More cultivation sites introduced
Earlier this year, it was announced that more land will be opened for commercial rice farming namely, Panchor Murai and Limpaki, for the increase of paddy output as well as to encourage more paddy farmers to plant high-yielding rice varieties.
Planting at the new site Panchor Murai was expected to begin in March on a six to 10 hectares of land and slated to be fully utilised by 2020, used to plant Sembada188 only.
In September last year, the government has awarded a tender to Yaz & Wyn Enterprise – the sole distributor of Sembada188 seeds in Brunei – to develop 110-hectare land in Panchor Murai A and B into a large -scale commercial paddy production site.
The company has been appointed to bring the national paddy production rate up by 1,150 metric tonnes per year.
Meanwhile for Limpaki, DAA’s Head of Rice and Crop Protection Division Khairunnisa Hj Omar Ali, in February said that the farming on the site is not known yet.
The department is phasing Laila out of commercial production and discouraging farmers to plant the rice variety because it is prone to diseases, she said.
Another new cultivation site is Kandol in the Belait District.
His Majesty the Sultan has also announced on the new 500-hectare site for paddy cultivation that will be operated by Darussalam Assets.
Kandol, which is still covered in vegetation, is a flood-prone area but has fertile and rich with nutrients soil based on an environment impact assessment conducted in 2011.
“We need to create diversion channels to direct the water during rainy seasons… it is not only beneficial to the paddy site but also to settlements and communities nearby,” said Khairunnisa, adding that experts still need to find ways to mitigate flood.
Senior government officials delegation visited the area last year to assess the flood mitigation and irrigation systems that are proposed at the new commercial site.
Minister of Primary Resources and Tourism YB Dato Seri Setia Hj Ali Apong at the recent Legislative Council meeting revealed that the first 20 hectares of Kandol site is allocated for paddy cultivation which operations will begin this year.
Imang Dam increases water capacity to boost output
The Imang Dam is set to increase its total overall capacity by one million cubic meters of water, making it to be able to retain nine million cubic meters.
The dam’s $3.9 million upgrade involves the deepening of the reservoirs and removal of vegetation as well as installation of new water pumps that will be able to supply more water to the holding tank.
Head of Agricultural Engineering Services of DAA Saidin Namit said that paddy farmers in Pangkalan Batu have to plan their planting because the dam’s current capacity is not enough to cater other areas beyond Wasan.
With the increase of water capacity of the dam, it will allow farmers to plant crops simultaneously especially the hybrid rice varieties that need constant irrigation.
Moreover, other projects by DAA also include construction of a 10km irrigation pipeline to Limpaki and water retention ponds upgrade.
“Although the dam’s capacity is sufficient to supply the commercial paddy plantations, we want to make sure other areas that are further away from the dam have their own irrigation systems and not relying on the dam,” he said.
The Imang Dam supplies water to plantations in Wasan, Bebuloh, Panchor Murai, Batong, Junjongan and Limau Manis.
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN