BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – A new commercial rice cultivation site in Kandol, Belait is hoped to boost Brunei’s rice production and national rice self-sufficiency.

His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah announced the opening of the 500 hectare site during the opening of the Knowledge Convention 2018 held at the International Convention Centre on Tuesday.

He said the new site will be equipped with proper agricultural infrastructure and will be opened up to private sector and government-linked companies.

The new site will complement the country’s existing initiatives to boost national rice output, including the introduction of a new high-yielding rice variety called  Sembada188, which was first planted in Wasan last October, and research and development into other high yielding rice strains, such as Titih and BDR5.

Each harvesting season, Sembada188 can produce an estimated six metric tonnes of paddy per hectare, while Titih can produce 8.5 metric tonnes per hectare. The monarch said the two paddy varieties will be planted widely in areas with complete irrigation systems.

HM the Sultan and HM the Raja Isteri attending the Knowledge Convention 2018 at the ICC. Photo: Infofoto

Brunei’s agricultural sector has faced several challenges in the recent years which has limited rice yield, such as infertile land, poor irrigation, unpredictable weather and lack of capital.

“Even so, we must continue on…. The reason I have emphasised this is because agriculture determines our survival as an independent nation,” the monarch said.

“There can no longer be any reason for us to be slow in [developing] agriculture.”

His Majesty expressed confidence that the government’s new initiatives will boost national rice self-sufficiency.

In 2017, the country’s rice requirement stood at 32,158 metric tonnes, but production only reached 1,526 metric tonnes — just 4.74 percent of national self-sufficiency. The government’s goal is to reach 11 percent by the year 2020.

HRH Prince Abdul Mateen, HRH Prince Abdul Malik and HRH Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah tour an exhibition staged in conjunction with the Knowledge Convention 2018, held at the ICC on Nov 28. Photo: Infofoto

Across Brunei, some 919 hectares are currently under cultivation, with the new Kandol site boosting the total land area reserved for rice production by 54 percent.

“Agriculture can involve anyone. It is not limited to those who own hundreds of hectares of land,” the sultan said. “People can even grow things at their own homes… What’s important is that we do not waste this opportunity.”

The Minister of Primary Resources and Tourism, YB Dato Seri Setia Hj Ali Apong, in his speech at the Knowledge Convention said Brunei’s agricultural sector has seen encouraging progress over the past 20 years.

The output of the sector grew at an average rate of 7.71 percent per year, from $93 million in 1998 to $380 million in 2017.

“This achievement is spearheaded by an output increase from two major sectors, namely livestock and crops,” he said.

The State Mufti Pehin Dato Ustaz Hj Awg Abdul Aziz delivering a lecture at the Knowledge Convention 2018. Photo: Infofoto

Over the past 20 years, the livestock sector grew at an average rate of 6.03 percent per year, from $66 million in 1998 to $200 million in 2017.

Meanwhile, crop output, including paddy, grew at an average rate of 4.28 percent per year, from $27 million in 1998 to $60 million in 2017.

Other statistics outlined by the minister:

  • The fisheries industry grew at an average rate of 5.15 percent per year over the same period, from $43 million in 1998 to $112 million in 2017.
  • The aquaculture industry grew at an average rate of 16.89 per cent per year, from $2 million in 1998 to $17 million 2017.
  • The fish processing industry grew at an average rate of 14.13 per cent per year, from $2 million in 1998 to $22 million in 2017.

The 13th Knowledge Convention – held in conjunction with His Majesty’s birthday celebration – is themed “Agriculture Sector: Survivability of the nation” and will see 24 papers presented on Brunei’s agricultural industry from November 27 to 30.

The Knowledge Convention’s exhibition featuring Brunei-based agribusinesses will be running at ICC until December 3.