Move to raise local rice output to 10pc of domestic needs

National 2 minutes, 24 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

THE Agriculture Department is considering raising the volume of local rice production as a percentage to total domestic consumption to 10 per cent.

Brunei's current self-sufficiency rate in rice stands at 2.88 per cent. The bulk, or 97 per cent, of rice consumed in the sultanate is imported from Thailand, said Sufri Abdullah, assistant director of the department.

He did not specify when this target, once it is decided on by department officials, will be achieved.

In 2006, rice imports totalled 32,109 metric tonnes, according to rice industry statistics.

"Even the 2.88 per cent of our local production is not to cater to locals where some farmers opt to produce for self-consumption instead," he said in an interview.

Local rice is also considered of higher value, said Sufri. Ten kilogrammes of Thai rice can cost a Bruneian between $11.90 and $12.00 whilst three kilogrammes of local rice can cost up to $10.

A self-sufficiency rate of 10 per cent in rice is the maximum rate to achieve taking into account factors, such as infrastructure and land availability, he said.

"That is the maximum rate because when you talk about rice plantations you need low-lying areas, good infrastructure and most importantly good irrigation systems as well as the right manpower. We have still a long way to go."

The land area for rice cultivation is limited and rolling topography is usually not suitable for this agricultural activity.

"In some areas it is low lying land, in other areas it is hilly land area," Sufri added.

According to 2006 statistics from the department, Brunei's rice consumption was 31,082 metric tonnes. Local production was 895.3 metric tonnes.

"Our local production has been on a steady increase from year to year, it is encouraging," he added.

Sufri said that lately some locals have developed a keen interest in rice production and the department will make sure it is there to facilitate and support this trend.

"We will try to provide them with infrastructure and support those who want to open land for rice production, help to ... (assess) the availability and suitability of land," he said.

Moreover, the department plans to open a big area for rice production with proper infrastructure and utilities.

Brunei currently has 100 per cent food self-sufficiency in eggs and broilers.

In 2006, the agriculture sector contributed US$58.4 million to the nation's gross domestic products (GDP), with a total production output worth almost US$172 million. By the first quarter last year, the sultanate recorded an 85 per cent self-sufficiency in local vegetables, and 33 per cent in tropical fruits.

Meanwhile, government officials concerned have yet to state whether current problems facing some neighbouring countries over tight supplies and rising prices of rice would adversely affect the local market.

In the case of local rice farmers, however, Sufri said their production is not likely to be affected by the global concern over supply and prices.

The Brunei Times