DAA may tap private sector to rent machinery to rice farmers

National 2 minutes, 22 seconds

BELAIT

THE Department of Agriculture and Agrifood (DAA) is looking to gauge private sector interest in renting out machinery to rice farmers, offering them a way to increase production at affordable rates.

Head of the National Rice Production Project Sheikh Mohd Radzi Sheikh Adnan said that enlisting the private sector as service providers for processes including harvesting and land preparation would reduce the time traditionally required and improve total yield.

“It would also be more cost-effective. Right now the main cost for farmers, even the traditional ones, is towards labour (monthly salaries for employees),” said Sheikh Mohd Radzi in a recent interview. Factoring that a single employee is paid upwards of $400 a month — during padi season typically lasting between three and six months — enlisting a private provider to harvest or level the land would prove cheaper overall, he said.

In addition to subsidies on fertilisers and pesticides, DAA also currently offers discounts on a selected range of machinery for farmers overseeing plots less than five hectares.

However smaller farmers, especially those outside Brunei-Muara, still shy away from investing in machinery, considering it a substantial investment that comes with maintenance costs.

“For some farmers, it’s just not cost effective to have a harvester of piece of machinery year-round when it’s only used for a short period of time,” said Sheikh Mohd Radzi. Ideally, each district would have its own service provider, but Sheikh Mohd Radzi points out that the private interest ultimately has to be demand driven.

“The providers will go where their services are required the most. So big plots like agricultural development areas (KKP), where there is infrastructure and on-going production, will be targeted,” he said.

The privatising of machinery supply also helps reduce reliance on equipment subsidies, and goes in-hand with the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism's wider strategy for economies of scale – which attempts to leverage increased output to lower unit costs. The strategy has become increasingly relevant, as Brunei's rice production also has to contend with a declining number of padi farmers – due to an ageing base of farmers that are retiring without a corresponding number of younger replacements – as well as a cap on total land for rice farming.

“Brunei only has a thousand plus hectares earmarked for rice farming so maximising every hectare counts,” said Sheikh Mohd Radzi. Head of the Rice Research and Development Unit Khairunnisa Hj Omar Ali said that by developing rice fields with accommodating infrastructure and then farming them with high technology, these challenges can be overcome.

“Having fewer farmers is not necessarily an issue. Following economies of scale, if the newer and existing farmers that optimise the use of technology and machinery, they will not only be able to plant across a wider area with less manpower, but also have a higher yield per hectare,” she said.

The Brunei Times