Delay in completing irrigation system spells doom for Bario rice farmers

KUCHING: The harvest of Sarawak’s premium Bario rice, rated as the best in the region and rich in minerals and vitamins, is expected to be poor this year.

This was expressed by Rurum Kelabit Sarawak vice president Dr Roland Mattu on his return from a recent visit home in Bario.

He said this was because there is no irrigation for the padi field and farmers are relying on rain water only, but with very little rain in the last month of September.

He pointed out the problem came after an agricultural development contractor was given the contract by the government to provide for irrigation.

This resulted in the traditional farm dams being abandoned in anticipation of the new pipe irrigation under construction. Unfortunately, technical problems arose and as yet there is no irrigation which means the lack of running water and this is going to lead to a poor harvest, he lamented.

“I have been following the farming for many decades as my parent have been farmers, I have never been more concerned about a seasonal failure than this year.

“Many of the farms that have not been planted and those planted are without water and all are doomed to failure. There is urgent need for action and farmers are at a loss as where to turn. There is a chance of salvaging some of the farms but this will need immediate action to get water onto the paddy field in Paramapuh, Maraiw, Arur Laab, and Arur Dalan,” he said yesterday.

He also said he has met Pemanca Philip Lakai who has highlighted the problem to the authority concerned but who also now feels helpless.

“One of the most important part of Bario Rice cultivation is to have abundant fresh water from the mountain (flow) into the bunds especially after the planting season (but) as this is not happening, the planted fields for harvest is doomed to fail.

“There is an urgent need for corrective action and on behalf of all of the farmers in Bario. As vice president of Rurum Kelabit Sarawak, I appeal to all concerned for your help,” he pleaded.

On behalf of the Bario Asal farmers, he said they are all looking forward for the new irrigation and mechanised farming as the way forward but the delay is making them very anxious.

“Our ancestors have been cultivating wet padi for generations, surely some of what we have been practising is of great value rather than a revolution with modern methods.

“There should be a careful conservation of our farming methods that are good and merge with modern methods to take it to greater heights. The irrigation may take another year to complete and we cannot afford to have poor harvest two years in a row,” he said.

Based on news reports, RM17 million was allocated for the Bario Rice Industry Development Project under the National Key Result Areas (NKRA) in January 2012.

Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Alfred Jabu was quoted as saying the implementation of the project, between 2011 and 2015, involving 800 hectares of highland in the Bario area, had been offered to Syarikat Bario Ceria Sdn Bhd.

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