Monday, May 20

Swiftlet farming booming in Tatau


Ita (right) promotes her homemade ‘tuak’, together with local yeast maker Mana Renang.

The team’s Isuzu MU-X Type-S parked behind a landmark in Tatau town.

Heavy rain makes for a much slower drive to BAT7’s initial destination – Sarikei.

Some of the commercial buildings in Tatau, where swiftlet farming is being carried out.

Syarikat Impian is a must-stop place to stretch tired legs and also grab some food.

SIBU: Without realising it, this is the last leg of BAT7’s two-week roadtrip, which has covered over 2,000km up north and back.

Initially, we planned to head to Sarikei from Bintulu but due to ongoing heavy construction works along the Pan Borneo Highway and also the all-day heavy rain yesterday which slowed our journey, we made Sibu our pitstop in order to meet the deadline.

Along the way, we stopped by at Tatau – a small town about 56km from Bintulu town – for lunch where we discovered a lot of swiftlet farming activities being carried out in commercial buildings. Upon reaching the town, we were welcomed by the noisy chirping – both recorded and natural – of the swiftlets around there.

When asked for their comments, the locals seemed to be oblivious to the noise pollution created by these swiftlets. One of the townsfolk, who preferred anonymity, simply said: “We’re used to it – what can we do; we have to get used to it.”

Another resident, who operates a coffee shop, appealed to the relevant authorities to get rid of these swiftlet farms in commercial buildings for various reasons.

A source close to the matter revealed that such business endeavour was flouting the law.

“Firstly, shophouses should not be used as or turned into swiftlet farms for it is against the law of land or building use. And secondly, it is operated illegally without licence, which should be issued by the controller of wildlife,” the source told BAT7 yesterday.

The source also revealed that in some towns across Peninsula Malaysia such as in Taiping in Perak, the authority there allowed such activity to take place in commercial buildings.

“But here in Sarawak, we have to be careful as it can pose hazard to public health, especially diseases which can be transmitted by birds such as bird’s flu. So we have to take preventive measures by stopping this illegal activity.

“So our hope now is for the key agencies to enforce the law; otherwise it would become a mockery of the legal system in the land,” the source emphasised, adding that swiftlet farming should be conducted at least 10km away from town and conducted on agriculture land in accordance with the present guidelines.

At the small vegetable market, BAT7 met an Iban ‘tuak’ (rice wine) maker from Rumah Supit, which is located some 2km from town.

Ita Supit, who happens to be the village headman’s daughter, has been making the traditional Iban rice wine for most of her adult life.

“We sell it daily but there is more demand for it before any festival like Gawai or Christmas, as it is a must for the Ibans to have it during such joyous celebrations.

“I make the local wine myself, from glutinous rice and yeast; I sell it at RM15 per one-litre plastic bottle,” she added.

Ita disclosed that her wine would be ready for consumption after a fermentation period of two to three weeks. She said her wine ‘is crystal clear’, in that she uses homemade yeast known as ‘ragi’ – or ‘chiping’ in Iban – which she gets from a woman supplier at another village.

“The wine-making process is quite simple – the ingredients are glutinous rice mixed with dried yeast ball,” she said.

“The secret of making good rice wine is in the ingredients of the yeast ball, which is a mixture of blended local galangal, pepper powder, ginger, cinnamon, rice flour and water. It will be kneaded and rolled into a ball and then dried for three to four days, depending on the weather,” she said.

In the beginning, Ita said the glutinous rice that had been mixed with yeast would be stored inside a ceramic jar, where the fermentation would take place and after that, the wine would be ready to be bottled and marketed.

“I also sell the yeast balls for those who like to make their own wine – at RM12 per kilogramme,” she added.

According to Ita, the ‘tuak’ brings more income to her than selling varieties of local and wild vegetables at the market. We drove 85km further and reached Selangau, where we had restroom breaks and stretched our legs at Syarikat Impian – a must-stop rest place to grab some food and drinks as well.

BAT7 will make its homestretch today after a two-week journey. This would be the longest drive as our hearts are anxious to reach home safely.