The rice for food security?
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
MOST Bruneian parents will always remind their young children at the dining tableto finish their meal to the last grain of rice or otherwise the “rice will cry”.
It was not a threat but a roundabout way of teaching the young ones of not being wasteful and valuing Asia’s staple food.
Bruneian elders are not wrong to preach prudence as the Sultanate’s target of 60 per cent rice self-sufficiency by 2016 was disrupted this year. ( why?)
During this year’s Legislative Council meeting, Yang Berhormat Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Utama Dato Seri Setia Hj Yahya Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Bakar also the Minister of Industry and Primary Resources (MIPR) said that Brunei’s rice production was far from the 60 per cent target set by the ministry in 2009.
To immediately remedy the situation, the MIPR minister told the LegC session that the government has identified a few high-yield variety padi to increase rice production – one of them is called the MRQ76 which can produce higher yields than the Laila rice.
What is MRQ76?
The Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources stated that MRQ76 is a variety of rice tested under a padi planting research project conducted by Brunei’s Department of Agriculture and Agrifood (DAA) and Malaysia Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI).
It is MARDI’s research code name and MRQ stands for Malaysian Rice Quality.
The MRQ76 variety was declared in Malaysia in 2012 to be of high quality variety chosen based on its rice qualities specifically its aroma, softness, and slightly sticky texture that is in line with the demands of the local Brunei Darussalam market.
MRQ76 the new variety of rice sold in supermarkets can produce higher yields than the Laila rice, said Fuziah Hj Hamdan, head of Primary Resource Research and Development at the Department of Agriculture and Agrifood (DAA).
MRQ76, which stands for Malaysian Rice Quality 76, has an average yield of four metric tonnes per hectare – one metric ton more than the average yield than the laila rice can produce.
“But with an even good management, the MRQ76 rice can produce a yield of five metric tonnes per hectare,” she said, when asked on the yield difference between the two varieties as this was slightly more than the “good management laila rice” produce of at least 4-4.5 metric tonnes per hectare.
“The 0.5 difference may appear small on paper but in terms of padi farming that involves hectares of land, figuratively that accounts for massive yields for a farmer,” she said.
Fuziah also said that one advantage of the MRQ76 over Laila is that it appears to have a better resistance to diseases and pests.
“Could MRQ76 be a better grain to plant from Laila rice in the future because it is better resistant? For the moment, yes, as the MRQ76 has an intermediate (sederhana) resistance to diseases such as blast and sheath blight,” she said.
“We are hoping the resistance of this rice variety can withstand for long because the diseases have the ability to mutate, adapt and reduce the padi’s resistance.”
She said a stronger resistance was vital because it gives more stability to padi farmers that their yields would be unaffected and would save the costs of production from the possibilities of crop failure.
Her colleague, Khairunnisa Hj Omar Ali, the Head of Rice Research and Development Unit, said that the DAA was constantly researching for resistant varieties of rice as the disease mutation factor was one of the rice production’s major threats.
“Laila rice is more susceptible to diseases and it needs a more intensive care now but previously when it was first introduced, it also had a decent resistance to diseases,” she said.
In a separate interview, Hj Mohaimin Hj Johari, village leader of Kg Limau Manis said that farming the Laila rice did not need to mean monitoring the fields 24 hours a day but they must watch out for the water level.
“You have to monitor how much water goes into the padi field because too much is no good and neither is too less, it has to have the right and balanced amount.”
Explaining the technicality, Khairunnisa said that water balance was vital because the diseases and insects, enemies to crops were flown in by air and water.
“The challenge is that in our geographical climate, the diseases that hurt the padi fields can always mutate, become stronger and reducing the resistance of the rice variety,” she said.
“So even with the MRQ76’s reasonable resistance, we are not putting all our eggs in one basket. The DAA are constantly researching for more rice variety, so for example if one variety appears under threat, we have another to back us up.”
Fuziah said that the MRQ76 was first planted in 2013 to test on the variety’s suitability to Brunei soil and results showed that it has a potential to be developed.
“In 2014, the DAA has eyed farm lands at the Kg Wasan Agricultural Development Area as big as 50 hectares to test its planting performance at larger scale,” she said.
“Hence the commercial planting will be carried out by padi entrepreneurs once an agreement has been reached by the DAA and MARDI.”
The MRQ76 is now sold at a number of local supermarkets at $12.50 for a 10kg bag.
The Brunei Times