BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – A project to identify groundwater sources for paddy irrigation will begin next month, a move that is hoped to boost the country’s rice yield.

An agreement was signed on Thursday between the Department of Agriculture and Agrifood (DAA) and Preston Geocem (B) Sdn Bhd, who will carry out the pilot project for 45 days beginning October 8.

“This project is expected to contribute to the increase in the country’s rice production by a total of 690 metric tonnes per year,” the DAA said in a statement.

Back in March, the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism said it planned to build better irrigation and drainage systems for high-yield paddy varieties, earmarking $45 million for rice and vegetable cultivation under the DAA budget and National Development Plan.

Director of DAA (2L) Hjh Aidah Hj Hanifah signing an agreement with representatives of Preston Geocem (B) Sdn Bhd on September 28, 2018. Photo: Courtesy of MPRT

A senior officer from the Agricultural Engineering Services Division, Faizan Ibrahim, said the irrigation pilot project is geared towards paddy plantations that have incomplete irrigation systems and rainfed areas (farms that rely on rainfall as a water source for their crops).

“If the results are encouraging, the next phase for us will be to build permanent wells at the specified locations,” Faizan told The Scoop. “[This] will help supply water to these non-irrigated areas, allowing them to cultivate hybrid rice varieties.”

Four agricultural areas have been identified for the pilot project:

  1. Bebuloh Agricultural Development Area, Brunei-Muara district  
  2. Limau Manis and Junjungan Agricultural Development Area, Brunei-Muara district
  3. Lot Sengkuang Agricultural Development Area, Belait district  
  4. Perdayan and Lekiun Agricultural Development Area, Temburong district

A land lease agreement between the DAA and Yaz & Wyn Enterprise was also signed on Thursday, giving 110 hectares  located at the Agricultural Development Area Panchor Murai A & B.

The lease is valid for five years and can be renewed, provided the company’s development of the land is deemed satisfactory by the department.

The government is aiming to boost annual rice production to 7,700 metric tonnes by 2020, increasing self-sufficiency from 4.58 percent in 2016 to 22 percent by 2020.

However, local farmers face numerous challenges in rice cultivation, such as high soil acidity, unpredictable weather, lack of capital and competition from neighboring countries.