BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism (MPRT) has proposed a more than 40 percent increase in its 2019/20 budget, tabling $93 million compared to the $54 million approved in the previous fiscal year.

The budget will be focused on two main sectors with potential to contribute further to the national coffers — agriculture and tourism.

An additional $25.6 million has also been earmarked under the 11th National Development Plan budget for the Imang dam upgrade ($7.5 million), development of aquaculture sector ($13.4 million) and acquisition of new technology for vegetable farming ($5.7 million).

Minister of Primary Resources and Tourism,YB Dato Hj Ali, speaking at the 15th Legislative Council meeting. Photo: Hazimul Wa’ie/The Scoop

Investments into these sectors are the main thrusts of the country’s efforts away from dependence of oil and gas revenue. “The ministry will continue to come up with ways to help contribute to the GDP,” YB Dato Seri Setia Hj Ali Apong said at the Legislative Council meeting on Thursday.

Last year, the agriculture sector saw a surge of $57 million to its bottom line, recording a $436 million revenue compared to $379 million in 2017.

“[To date] the agriculture and agrifood sector has provided employment to  8,293 locals comprising 43 percent of its workforce,” the minister shared. He added that in terms of self sufficiency, Brunei is at 47 percent for vegetables,37 percent for fruits and 30 percent for meat supply.

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As measures to ensure the continued growth of this sector, the ministry has introduced three programmes aiming to entice more locals to become farmers and help existing farmers increase their output and overcome challenges.

These initiatives include the contract farming project which was introduced in January 2018, under which the ministry will help facilitate local farmers to secure long-term deals to supply to major retailers.

“Since the [contract farming programme] was introduced, we have successfully signed on 11 farmers to supply their produce at select major supermarkets in the country,” YB Dato Hj Ali said.

Responding to a question by YB Iswandy Ahmad whether MPRT  has plans to control the import of vegetables in order to help prioritise local produce, the minister said that they are in discussion with distributers and retailers.

“We are hoping to address this with the contract farming project and we continue to speak with retailers and hoteliers to encourage them to buy local.”

Touching on the tourism sector, YB Dato Hj Ali said that his ministry will focus on promoting tourism products, highlighting a few developments underway in the Temburong district.

“Basically, most of the allocation earmarked for tourism will go into improving and upgrading tourism products,” he said, adding that they want to diversify tourism products in Temburong so that it isn’t just associated with the Ulu Temburong National Park.

“We want to develop the Batang Duri and Sungai Labu areas for activities such as jungle trekking and other ecotourism activities.”