Government explores potential developments in agriculture
by Liza Mohd

To observe the development of paddy plantations in the Belait District, Permanent Secretaries at the Ministry of Development joined a working visit organised by the Land Department to paddy fields at Lot Mobil and Lot Sengkuang located in the remote areas of Kampong Labi, Belait District yesterday morning.

Belait District is the second largest rice producer in the nation, accounting for a 35 per cent input in the year 2006/2007 whilst Mukim Labi contributed significantly with a production of 439,020 kg out of the total production of 530,245 kg in the district.

The working visit was led by Acting Land Commissioner, Pg Abd Wahab bin Pg Hassan. Permanent Secretaries Dato Paduka Haji Ali bin Haji Apong and Haji Mohd Rozan bin Dato Paduka Haji Md Yunos as well as agricultural directors of the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources observed the conditions and potential development of the paddy lots.

Prior to the visit, a briefing on paddy plantations was delivered by Head of the Belait District Agriculture Development Unit, Awang Latif bin Haji Ahmad, held at the Labi multi-purpose hall.

According to statistics released by the Department of Agriculture, Lot Sengkuang recorded paddy production of 192,450 kg last year while Lot Mobil contributed 10,300 kg. The paddy assistance scheme in Belait District has recorded a total of 192 paddy farmers compared to 209 in 2006 with a recorded sale of 277,130 kg of paddy to the Agriculture Department priced at $1.60 per kilo amounting to $443,408 the previous year.

Lot Sengkuang, covers a mass land area of 300 hectares and houses the best paddy plantations in the Belait District with 101 independent farmers harvesting crops in 155.9 hectares of land and 58 farmers under the paddy assistance scheme harvesting 89.7 hectares.

The lot is developed for paddy farming by residents of Mukim Labi and surrounding areas.

There have been no official offers for entrepreneurs thus far, but the distribution of land lots to members are made through the Mukim Labi Consultative Councils chaired by Chief of Mukim Labi, Haji Kamarhan bin Atma.

The vast infrastructure of Lot Sengkuang includes 'Jalan Ladang', a three kilometers pathway project, under the Eight National Development Plan, which was completed in June 2004 at the cost of $118,800. Irrigation and water systems were constructed in 1995 under the Sixth National Development Plan while land allocation, agricultural supplies such as machines, fertilisers and pesticides, paddy assistance scheme rate and building surrounding fences for engine pump houses came under the assistance of the Department of Agriculture.

Seven "long house" residents of Rampayoh led by longhouse leader Awang Sagoh Anak Gumpang, conducts the harvest at Lot Mobil paddy plantation. Only 30 acres out of the total 200 acres of land have been developed for paddy plantations while some 40 hectares are privately owned land grants.

The Village Head of the Labi II area, Awg Haji Abdullah bin Haji Idris, also a paddy farmer in Lot Sengkuang since 1985, said that Lot Mobil, which covers over 200 acres of swamp land have been explored and developed for paddy plantations since 1920 until 1955 and back then, various types of paddy such as beras sanggau, rotan, sebakit, radin, siam, langsat and ulur were usually grown for the village people.

Production was not executed for commercial interest although it was highly lucrative at that time.

"However, due to modernisation, the younger generation migrate to urban areas to acquire better academic and career opportunities, causing a lack of interest amongst people in the field of paddy or crop farming which resulted in a desertion of Lot Mobil until it was revived two years ago by the Rempayah longhouse occupants who re-developed the land for farming," the Village Head said.

The abundance of land available at Lot Mobile should be researched and explored, as it offers a possibility for large-scale paddy production. Birds however, pose the largest threat to the paddy fields and the village head hopes that authorities will take appropriate measures concerning the irrigation system and absence of water supply to Lot Sengkuang since 1997.

"Unlike three to four years ago, the drought season has ruined most of the paddy plantations. Fortunately the weather has been acceptable but a steady water supply is still essentially required for the paddy plantation process," he added.

The working visit yesterday is one of the many steps taken by the Ministries and government departments in line with His Majesty's aspirations to increase agricultural production for the nation's food security. - Borneo Bulletin (14th August 2008)