Brunei’s rice target still a long way off

, National 5 minutes, 9 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

BRUNEI still has a long way to go and many improvements to make before achieving its target of 60 per cent self-sufficiency in rice production, which was supposed to be met last year.

While the Department of Agrifood and Agriculture recorded a 44 per cent rise last year in rice production, better irrigation and more supplies of fertilisers are still needed to improve output.

Soil conditions

Lieutenant Colonel (Rtd) Hj Mohd Sahlan Hj Hidup, chairperson of Koperasi Setia Kawan (KOSEKA), said padi planting itself may face challenges as most of the soil in Brunei is acidic and not very suitable for mass plantation of padi.

In order to resolve this, he said the government or any related bodies may need to distribute a lot of lime-based fertiliser to farmers, which would help reduce the acidity levels of the land, making it suitable for padi plantations.

The process of making the land suitable would be a long one, however, looking at the amount of fertiliser that needs to be applied, said Hj Mohammad Hj Shamsu, a padi entrepreneur who is also a member of the Mukim Padi Planting project in Wasan in Brunei-Muara District.

For land that had never been cultivated with lime-based fertiliser, he said, it may take a long time, looking at how long it took to make Wasan suitable for padi plantation after years of administering fertiliser.

The suitability of the soil at Wasan, he said, contributed to the rise in the country’s rice production for 2015, and the area now only needs a small amount of lime-based fertiliser, but more nutrients need to be added to the fertiliser and other fertilisers need to be used to foster good growth of their padi.

Need for adequate fertilisation

Hj Mohammad said the types of fertiliser needed to enable padi to grow well in Wasan are the NPK 15-15-15 variety, where every 15 per cent of the fertiliser contains a combination of three types of elements - Nitrogen-Phosphate-Potassium - and also the NPK 12-12-17 TE variety.

The first type of fertiliser, he said, is applied to ensure the fertile growth of padi in the plots, and the other fertiliser is to support the padi hormones for better grains when it is time for harvesting.

He said the good growth and production in Brunei has allowed him to increase his yield from 2.5 metric tonnes of padi per plot to three tonnes, but he added that more fertilisers are still needed to further ensure good yields from padi farms in Wasan.

While the government provided subsidies for the fertilisers, Hj Mohammad said padi farmers in Wasan at times face difficulties in obtaining adequate amounts of fertilisers to be administered to their padi plantations.

Lieutenant Colonel (Rtd) Hj Mohd Sahlan of KOSEKA said that for NPK 15-15-15, the full price is $50 per gunny sack, while the NPK 12-12-17 TE is priced at $60.

The government, he said, provides a 50 per cent subsidy on the prices of each.

While the fertilisers may not be enough, Hj Mohammad said some farmers may resort to getting fertilisers by themselves, especially the NPK15-15-15, which they could obtain for $50 by importing it from China.

This, he said, is needed as the fertilisers had proven to allow their padi to flourish, and the NPK 12-12-17 will then be used especially to ensure that the padi would produce better grains when it comes to the harvesting period.

Need for better irrigation

Hj Mohammad and Lieutenant Colonel (Rtd) Hj Mohd Sahlan both highlighted the need for adequate supply of water to replenish the padi farms, ensuring their growth.

In providing the supply, however, Hj Mohammad said the mukims and KOSEKA may have to take turns in opening up their supply channels to allow water to reach the padi due to the limited capacity of the Imang Dam in Mukim Pengkalan Batu.

However, he said if every farmer in Wasan is able to get the water supply and plant at the same time, the rate of padi production may rise sharply, but doing so would depend on the government and how they think would be the best way to address the problem.

Meanwhile, to address the irrigation problems of padi farms, specifically in Brunei-Muara district, a couple of projects were proposed by the Department of Agriculture and Agrifood, including expanding the capacity of the Imang Dam.

The Imang Dam is used to supply water for irrigation to all plantations in Wasan, Bebuloh, Panchor Murai, Batong, Junjongan and Limau Manis farm plantations.

The proposed project would increase the dam’s capacity by 10 per cent from its current capacity of 8 million cubic metres of water to 8.8 million cubic metres.

The project would also entail improvements of the water pump at the dam’s pumping station that supplies to the holding tank.

The holding tank near the dam distributes water for irrigation to all padi plantations in Brunei-Muara district.

The Acting Assistant Director of Agriculture at the DAA, Saidin Namit, said recently that the water pump is the main problem when it comes to the irrigation of the padi plantations. He said it is unable to replenish the water in the holding tank fast enough to maintain a high pressure to ensure that the water supply reaches all padi plantations.

Saidin added that the department has finalised all the paperwork for the proposed project, but its implementation will depend on this year’s budget allocation, which will be addressed at the Legislative Council meeting.

The target of 60 per cent self-sufficiency in rice was first set in 2009 by the then Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources and was supposed to be reached by 2015.

Former Minister of Industry and Primary Resources Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Utama Dato Seri Setia Hj Yahya Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Bakar announced at last year’s Legislative Council meeting that Brunei would not reach the 60 per cent target as planned.

Since the failure to reach the target, there hasn’t been any clear-cut new target set for Brunei in its bid to be self-sufficient in rice, and a report last year had stated that the country was only four per cent self-sufficient.

The Brunei Times