KUCHING: The Sarawak Agriculture Department is ready to work together with the Malaysian Pepper Board (MPB) to combat diseases affecting pepper plants in the state.
Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas said pepper diseases have spread across the state and based on MPB’s estimation, the state has suffered substantial losses due to the diseases.
According to him, one of the ways to handle the situation is to beef up the number of agriculture officers throughout the state.
“We will have to first identify where the problems are coming from but we’ve been informed that MPB only has 44 station officers across the state and we know it’s not easy to increase manpower.
“This is where the Agriculture Department can help because we have manpower from Lundu right up to Limbang,” he said during a town hall session with pepper industry players and stakeholders at a leading hotel here on Tuesday.
Also present were Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok, MPB chairman Larry Sng, Ministry of Primary Industries secretary general Datuk Zurina Pawanteh and Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii, who is also MPB board member.
Uggah, who is also Modernisation of Agriculture, Native Land and Regional Development Minister, did not mince his words during the town hall session where he raised a number issues that are affecting Sarawak’s pepper smallholders including the drastic drop of pepper prices as well as the use of Sarawak pepper branding by unscrupulous traders.
“It has come to my understanding that some of our traders are importing pepper from Vietnam of which the quality is not as good as ours.
“Given that Sarawak pepper is considered first class in the world and therefore fetch a good price, we are not very happy with greedy people who mislead consumers by branding their packaging with our Sarawak pepper but on the inside, it contains Vietnam pepper instead,” he lamented.
He urged MPB to be strict in this matter and to regulate pepper packaging because “if you don’t, then we have a problem.”
He also proposed to Kok for a coordination committee to be established between both state and federal ministries so that whatever problems involving this commodity can be brought up for discussion in the interest of pepper industry players particularly smallholders in the state.
Uggah also informed that the Sarawak government is also doing its part to assist pepper farmers in Sarawak by providing allocation for fertilisers.
“We have an allocation to assist pepper farmers with fertilisers and this will kick off next year.”
He said the state government views pepper as one of its crucial commodities in view that the industry not only contributes to the state GDP (gross domestic product) but also the national GDP.
“This pepper industry has freed around 30,000 pepper farmers from poverty. Some of them who have around 1,000 trees can earn an income of RM10,000 per month.”
But he pointed out that this is only lucrative when the price of pepper is good.
He then suggested that the federal ministry come up with a social safety net for pepper farmers akin to what is being done for rubber planters when the price of the commodity drops.
“I hope Yang Berhormat (Kok) will bring back the issues we have raised during this town hall session and discuss with the Prime Minister on how to resolve the issues.
“Our hope is that her ministry will be able to find ways to resolve problems faced by our pepper industry players.”