MALAYSIA: Big rubber plans for Sarawak

Out of the planned 28,000 ha nationwide to be replanted next year, 10,000ha or more than 35% are in Sarawak. About 4,000 ha are planned in Sabah with the remaining 14,000 ha replanting for the peninsula.

Sarawak Risda director Sopian Abu Bakar said Sarawak had been allocated RM53 million, the biggest sum for any state, to fund the replanting programme next year due to its great potential.

He said the allocation was a four-fold increase from this year's RM13 million. Sarawak received RM6.75 million in 2010 and RM1.95 million in 2009 when Risda started its replanting programme after spreading its wing to the state.

Risda chairman Tan Sri Rahim Thamby Chik said last month that it was allocated RM121 million next year, the biggest ever, by the Government to carry out the replanting programme. Some 198,000 ha of old rubber estates nationwide are ready for redevelopment.

Under the Government's aid, smallholders in Peninsular Malaysia will receive RM9,230 per ha while those in Sabah and Sarawak about RM14,000 per ha for replanting.

There are about 380,000 smallholders in the country who contribute 90% or about 900,000 tonnes of Malaysia's annual rubber production.

It is understood that the Government has set aside a sizeable allocation to Sarawak Agriculture Department to fund new rubber planting projects. Sopian said that in view of the prevailing good rubber prices, there was an overwhelming response from smallholders in Sarawak to redevelop their old rubber estates.

Risda has received applications to replant 4,388 ha this year although its RM13 million allocation was enough to develop only 2,450 ha. These applicants own an average of 1.9 ha.

In addition, native customary right (NCR) landowners have applied for funds to replant more than 3,000 ha of untitled land.

He said smallholders would receive RM13,500 per ha for replanting, disbursed in cash, seedlings and fertilisers in six instalments over 54 months.

The first payment of RM5,300 per ha would be given out after the smallholders have cleared the land for planting.

The staggered payments, he added, was to ensure that the rubber trees were growing well and ready to be tapped in 4 years.

Unlike in the peninsula where there are big rubber plantations, rubber estates in Sarawak are owned mainly by smallholders. There are, however, some mini rubber estates developed in recent years.

To support its target of replanting 10,000 ha a year from 2012, Sopian said Risda had taken measures to address the shortage of replanting materials.

"We need some 5.5 million rubber seedlings next year. Risda has set up eight nurseries statewide and planned for in-situ nursery on a project-by-project basis in the rural areas,” he said.

The nurseries are in Batu Kawa, Samarahan, Betong, Saratok, Meradong, Ulu Oya, Kapit and Lawas. The seedlings are ready for planting when they are nine to 10 months old.

Sopian said Risda's 2012 target was to produce 5.5 million seedlings (success rate of between 70% and 80%) and source 1.5 million seedlings from local private nurseries.

He said Sarawak would import budded rubber stumps from the peninsula if needed.

High-yielding planting materials which are available to smallholders include PB260, PB350 and RRIM928, which have the potential to yield between 2,168 kg and 3,119 kg per ha per year of dry rubber content.

Risda has launched a campaign to buy rubber seeds at between RM3 and RM4 per kilo from local smallholders. Rubber seeds are produced two seasons a year February to March, and late September to mid-November.

Sopian said most smallholders in Sarawak produced unsmoked rubber sheets for sale to factories to be processed into SMR20. The rubber sheets are priced at between 70% and 75% to the SMR20s.

The SMR20 currently fetches around RM12.80 per kg compared to between RM3 and RM4 per kg several years ago.

It was reported that the prevailing good prices have lured owners back to work on their abandoned rubber estates, particularly in the Rejang basin in central Sarawak.

A rubber tapper, according to Sarawak Land Development Minister Tan Sri Dr James Masing, could now earn up to RM100 a day.

Sopian said smallholders should work to achieve a production of 1,600 kg/ha/year.

He said as Sarawak had higher annual rainfall (between 3,000mm and 4,000mm) compared with Peninsular Malaysia (between 1,800mm and 2,500mm), smallholders in Sarawak could only tap rubber trees for between 150 and 180 days a year.

Sopian predicts that with continued strong demand from countries like China, the good rubber prices could be sustained in the next few years.

Source: Daily "The Star", Kuala Lumpur; 14 Oct 2011

(Syed Rashid Ali, Karachi, Pakistan)