DAA studying creation of marketing board

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BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

A STUDY on the establishment of a marketing board to assist the Department of Agriculture and Agrifood (DAA) in making prudent marketing decisions and to stave off projects likely to be white elephants is expected to be completed by the middle of this year, The Brunei Times learned yesterday.

At the sidelines of the fifth day of the sixth State Legislative Council (LegCo) session, DAA Director Hjh Normah Suria Hayati PJDSM DSU (Dr) Hj Mohd Jamil Al-Sufri said the study had been outsourced to an international company based in Australia.

The company, which she did not name, is looking at models implemented in countries such as Canada and Malaysia.

The study began last year and was expected to be completed in December.

However, due to Influenza H1N1-related concerns, the research team was delayed and now the study is hoped to be completed by the middle of this year, the director said.

Hjh Normah explained that, if established, the board will advise the DAA on decisions such as the assistance to be given to small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) product development, departmental planning, among other matters.

At present, the DAA has a marketing unit that provides "support" only, said the director.

Therefore the department is aiming for marketing to play a bigger role in the country's agricultural sector, added Hjh Normah.

"If we did not conduct this study, then there is the possibility of assisting (projects) that are not needed for agricultural development," she said.

"We want to avoid 'white elephants'," she added.

The study was just one of the issues on agriculture that the Minister of Industry and Primary Resources, who oversees the DAA, shared during the LegCo sitting yesterday.

Minister of Industry and Primary Resources Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Utama Dato Seri Setia Hj Yahya Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Bakar said that such a marketing body would also help determine whether Brunei should venture into large-scale fruit farming.

The minister was answering a question raised by LegCo member Dato Paduka Hj Puasa Orang Kaya Seri Pahlawan Tudin, who asked why $1.1 million of the DAA's allocated budget of $29,162,740 for the current fiscal year was for the development of the local fruits industry.

"Is this allocation to carry out large-scale fruits farming?" asked Dato Hj Puasa, with the claim that every season saw a surplus of fruits that had not been sold or eaten due to lack of demand, and consequently left to rot.

He said that if the ministry were to venture into large-scale fruit farming, it would have to first address the problem of marketing.

Dato Hj Puasa also pointed out that $978,000 had been allocated as "research for agriculture", and thus, asked whether this was to investigate the problem.

In response, the minister acknowledged that market research had yet to be done on fruits, adding that was part of the reason for the study on the establishment of the marketing agency.

"Market research needs to be done first and facilities established to assist marketing of local fruits," Pehin Dato Hj Yahya said.

"Only after that can we contemplate the idea of large-scale fruit farming," he added.

The Industry and Primary Resources Minister also addressed other concerns raised, such as Brunei's padi planting initiative and what will be done to achieve the 20 per cent target for self-sufficiency in food production.

To this, Pehin Dato Hj Yahya said that aside from releasing new areas for padi farming, the ministry was also inviting local operators to conduct large-scale padi farming.

The Brunei Times