The Malaysian Pepper Board (MPB) plans to aggressively promote pepper farming in Sabah, said its chairman, Alexander Nanta Linggi.
Alexander said the studies, including soil suitability survey, were currently being undertaken in Penampang, one of the new areas being identified.
“The move was at the request of Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities, Bernard Dompok, who wished to see a much more bigger area under the crop nationwide,” he told a media briefing today.
He said pepper obviously has a future as it currently retailed at about RM22,000 per tonne.
“The price can be sustained and MPB aims to increase the number of farmers and entrepreneurs involved as well as increasing the country’s production.
“Currently, Sarawak is the primary producer followed by Johor,” he said. According to the board website, some 60,000 rural families in Sarawak are involved in the crop where more than 13,500 hectares have been planted.
The country annual production is about 25,000 tonnes and over 90 per centare exported to more than 40 countries worldwide including Japan, US, Spain,Taiwan, South Korea, Canada and Australia.
Alexander said MPB too was now carrying out studies for greater mechanisation in farm besides other research and development projects.
“We have, for instance, developed two to three prototype posts for the vine to grow on to instead of the traditional “Belian” (hardwood specie) wood postwhich is getting more expensive.
“They are the concrete and fibre types with in-built fertiliser dispensing system.
We have put them into field testing to determine their practicality and durability among others,” he said.
Meanwhile, he said, alternative land usage was eating into the crop hectarage in Sarawak now.
“In places like near Kuching, Serian pepper gardens in premiun areas are being replaced with housing estates.
“This is why we are turning our attention now into more rural areas in towns like Sarikei, Betong, Kuching and to a small extent Kapit which are the major growing areas in the state,” he said.
He said MPB was prepared to give inputs in the forms of fertiliser, cuttings and farming tools to those interested.
Alexander said farmers on the whole were still afraid to go into large-scale commercial cultivation, as problem like the foot root disease was still a significant risk.