KOTA KINABALU: Strategies are in place to strengthen Sabah’s agricultural sector and ensure that the supply of food like rice and milk remains stable, says Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Seri Dr Jeffrey Kitingan.
He said the Agriculture and Fisheries Ministry has formulated four major initiatives to increase rice production to achieve a rice self-sufficiency level (SSL) of 60% by 2030.
“The strategies include increasing rice productivity and yield in existing planting areas by using technology, mechanisation and automation; planting rice twice a year according to the irrigation system development level; using high yielding variety seeds and rehabilitating abandoned paddy fields.
“The ministry, through the Drainage and Irrigation Department (DID) is working to upgrade existing irrigation and drainage systems and build a new system for an area of 17,805ha,” he said.
Jeffery added that other strategies include intensifying research and development activities and expanding the physical area of paddy fields.
“This includes a proposal to develop 11,000ha of rice plantations in Felda Lahad Datu,” he said in a statement on Sunday (July 31).
Jeffery who is Sabah Agriculture and Fisheries Minister said the initiatives were expected to cost RM10bil which includes irrigation and drainage infrastructure works, fertiliser subsidies, inputs and sales, as well as machines and ploughs.
He was confident that if all of the planned strategies were implemented and there were adequate financial resources, the SSL target could be met.
He also said Sabah currently produced 0.01% of its maize needs last year, with only 14ha of land dedicated to the crop, yielding 14 tonnes against total annual demands of 153,151 tonnes.
“The Sabah government is determined to raise maize output to 3.68% in 2025 and 14.88% by 2030.
“For a start, the existing area of 14ha must be preserved and add another 1,160ha (including 1,000ha from the private sector) as new planting area under the 12th Malaysia Plan,” he said.
Jeffery added that to modernise the sector, conventional irrigation systems would be replaced with sprinkler systems.
The industry will also use sophisticated agricultural machinery, Good Agricultural Practices (APB), drones for fertilisation and pest and disease control and use high yielding varieties, he said.
“Naturally, we will need active participation and investment from the private sector, particularly an anchor company in the cereal maize crop sector for these to succeed,” he said.
In terms of milk commodities, Sabah considers itself self-sufficient with a rate of production above 100%, producing 8.435 million litres of milk last year, or 115.63% of SSL.
On the issue of small farmers closing down their farms, Jeffery said it was not new with high operational and labour costs as some of the contributing factors.
Furthermore, a tendency in the global livestock industry shows a drop in the number of small breeders, with commercial farms with a high number of livestock ownership replacing them, he said.
“Small breeders are frequently unable to expand their operations due to challenges such as lack of skills and knowledge in finance, marketing and so on.
“Although the number of farmers has decreased, the number of cattle on large private farms has increased. This global trend is also seen in Sabah and other livestock sub-sectors such as poultry and pigs.
“This can improve production capacity, disease control, livestock management and pollution management.
“Therefore, even if the number of farmers has decreased to 30, this has not affected Sabah’s fresh milk production capacity,” he said.
Jeffery noted that the ministry, through the Sabah Department of Veterinary Services had urged government-linked companies and private companies to participate in increasing the livestock population with the help of the Federal government through the Borneo Dairy Valley Programme which begins in 2023-2024.
“So far, only two GLC companies have applied; namely Sabah Land Development Board (SLDB) and Desa Keningau Livestock Industries Sdn Bhd (DKIL).
“The Borneo Dairy Valley Programme will propel the local dairy industry to new heights,” he said.
Jeffery said Sabah DVS would continue to implement and submit proposals for further allocations for projects to boost milk production and subsequently the ruminant livestock population in Sabah.
GLCs responded positively to livestock integration programmes under crops such as palm oil, and some even prepared with their own investment capital to optimise land use and boost their company’s source of income.