BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei’s largest commercial rice farm has begun operations in Kandol, Belait, with the government targeting an annual yield of 6,000 to 8,000 tonnes of paddy by 2025.

His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah officiated the first planting season at the 500 hectare site on Monday, with the recent expansion of land for rice cultivation seen as a crucial step to improving the country’s agricultural output and food security. 

By planting high-yielding rice varieties such as Sembada188 and Titih, the Kandol site is expected to bring Brunei’s self-sufficiency in rice up from the current rate of five percent to 11 to 15 percent by 2025. 

Rice cultivation has seen mixed fortunes over the past 20 years, with farmers tackling problems such as high soil acidity, poor irrigation infrastructure, lack of capital and competition from neighbouring countries.

Brunei’s rice production in 2018 stood at just 1,569 metric tonnes — far below the the 1,950 tonne target — with output stagnating at similar volumes for the past three years. 

The government said it will invest $45 million this year into new technology, farming programmes and irrigation systems to boost output, including a $3.9 million upgrade of the Imang Dam which supplies water to several rice fields in Brunei-Muara. 

The sultanate imports most of its rice from Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia in order to meet domestic consumption, which stood at 33,621 tonnes in 2018.

Currently, the vast majority of locally produced paddy is sold to the government under a “buy-back” scheme at $1.60/kg. The government then mills paddy into rice – which sheds 65% of its weight – and sells it at $1.15/kg to retailers to keep it competitively priced against imported rice.

The first seedlings of Sembada188 planted in Kandol, Brunei’s largest rice cultivation site. Photo: Infofoto

Belait: The new frontier in rice farming?

Although a flood-prone area, Kandol was identified as a potentially successful site for rice farming due to its nutrient-rich soil.

The 500 hectare site is managed by PaddyCo, a new government-linked company under Darussalam Assets.

PaddyCo will be working with Indonesian company PT Biogene Plantation for a trial period of three planting seasons to develop two small plots in Kandol, with a potential joint venture depending on the outcome of the trial.

Biogene developed the Sembada188 hybrid strain that is being planted in Kandol and other parts of Brunei such as Wasan. 

PaddyCo said the first phase of development at Kandol would span 20 hectares with the remaining 480 hectares to be developed by 2021. Full productivity will only be reached by 2025.

Another 1,000 hectare site further south in Buau has also been identified as a potential rice farming site, which could be pursued once Kandol has been fully developed.