￼Brunei’s dependence on food imports is an issue which has not gone unnoticed by Brunei’s government as they continue to ramp up efforts to boost the country’s productivity in the agricultural sector and other related industries.
Eighty per cent of the nation’s food demands are met through imports, a figure which has forced the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism (MPRT) to respond with the 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, an ambitious solution which aims to boost the Sultanate’s gross domestic product (GDP) and create new employment opportunities.
The focal points of the plan are the agricultural, forestry and fishing industries, with the MPRT hoping to boost productivity and export values of these commercial sectors through the introduction of high-tech production methods.
A mere five per cent of the Sultanate’s 5,765-square- kilometre land area is arable due to protected tropical rainforests, which cover 75 per cent of the country.
In 2015, agricultural activities accounted for only 0.5 per cent of the nation’s GDP.
Figures from the same year revealed that the total agriculture and agri-food gross output stood at approximately B$366 million.
The livestock industry contributed to 54 percent of output, agri-food processing accounted for 30 per cent whilst crops stood at 16 per cent.
The country did show signs of improvement in 2016, as figures released by the Agriculture and Agrifood Department (AAD) indicated that Brunei’s agriculture and agri-food gross output grew by 6.8 per cent in market value to B$97.08 million in the first quarter, up from B$90.93 millio in the corresponding period in the previous year.
The driving force behind the spike was the livestock sector, whose contribution rose to 57.3 per cent. This was thanks to its most valuable commodity, broiler chicken, which accounted for B$26.08 million (or 46.8 per cent of the total value).
It is still a long way off from the MPRT’s ambitions. The ministry is targeting a gross output improvement from B$511 million in 2015 to B$1.8 billion by 2020 – an average increase of 28.8 per cent per annum (2015-2020) compared to the average year-on-year growth of 6.5 per cent from 2010-2015. This would see the contribution from the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors increase from one per cent of the nation’s GDP to five per cent during that same period.
Breaking it down by sector, the MPRT has targeted an average annual growth of industrial gross output for agriculture of 24 per cent, whilst fisheries tops the list at 44 per cent and forestry sitting at 6.5 per cent (2015-2020). This would represent a significant improvement from the 2010-2015 figures, which stood at 9.90 per cent, 3.11 per cent and -6.75 per cent respectively.
However, there are plenty of initiatives in place to ensure the Sultanate is on track to meet these expectations.
The AAD has provided continuous support to local livestock businesses, offering land and supporting technologies like closed-system poultry houses to increase productivity.
Rice, a staple food in the abode of peace, has also been one of the AAD’s priorities in recent years. The rice buyback programme offers local farmers an incentive to grow paddy, with the government buying the produce at a cost of $1.60 per kilogramme, in the hopes of increasing annual yields.
The AAD is also projected to create 4,800 new job openings within the next five years in its quest to achieve the benchmark laid down by the MPRT. The Fisheries Department, meanwhile, is expected to generate 2,500 new jobs as well, whilst it is hoped that 360 new job openings will be created in the forestry industry.
The Brunei-Guangxi Economic Corridor is strewn with opportunities, with a wet paddy planting project, aquatic breeding projects and agricultural park all in the pipeline.
An agreement between Guangxi Ming Ming Agricultural Co. Ltd and Brunei Asia Enterprise will see a B$4 million agricultural industrial park constructed in Brunei. The planning area of 80 hectares is expected to produce vegetables, rice and fruit and will also include a poultry farm and reservoir to breed fish.
Aquaculture is another industry which is rife with potential.
The MPRT intends to increase the sector’s production capacity forty fold, from its B$10 million value in 2015 to over B$400 million in 2020, without being too land-intensive through the implementation of new technologies. By 2035, it is hoped that figure will increase to B$2 billion.
Ground-breaking developments in aquaculture represent an optimistic future for the Sultanate. The construction of the first vertical land-based aquaculture farm is already underway at KR Apollo’s project site in Kampong Tungku, Gadong.
Collaboration between Chinese company Guangxi Hiseaton Foods and the Brunei government-linked Hiseaton Fisheries (B) Sdn Bhd is also aiming to cultivate and export golden pompano fish, which will be worth an estimated B$300 million per year.
Business relations between Brunei and China have evidently flourished over the years, with the Brunei Economic Development Board (BEDB) and Guangxi Zhongli Enterprise Group signing a non- binding Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in September 2016 for the construction of an oyster cultivation and processing centre in Brunei.
The Tanjung Pelumpong Aquaculture site in Muara is viewed as another possible investment opportunity between Brunei and Singapore. The farm, ODE Aquaculture and Agriculture, produces hybrid groupers, mouse groupers and sea bass among others, producing 265 tonnes a year for both the local and foreign market.
Searay Aquatech is another local success story. With 78 units of marine cages at the Tanjung Pelumpong Marine Fish Cage site, the company cultivates sea bass, grouper, pompano and trevally, exporting their produce to China and Hong Kong.
Another joint venture project is crab farming, involving RBI (Singapore) and Samakaya (Brunei). Through vertical and contract farming, a sales target of B$100 million annually has been set.
Lastly, there is the Multi-purpose Marine Resources Processing and Business Centre in Serambangun, Tutong. It is an ongoing aquaculture project spearheaded by Taiwanese company Golden Corporation (GC), who have invested a total of B$30 million. GC manages over 100 hectares of shrimp farms in Brunei, supplying shrimp fry and aquatic feed to local farms, and also providing them with buyback support and processing facilities. A sales target from blue shrimp has also been set at B$100 million annually.
Aquaculture is the most attractive proposition for overseas investors, particularly with neighbouring Singapore. China is also seizing the opportunities presented to them in Brunei with a slew of projects and MoUs already agreed.
Brunei’s government hopes to encourage more investors to buy into agribusiness, either on a primary level, through the cultivation of fruits, vegetables and herbal and medicinal plants, or on a secondary level, which would include food processing and medicine production.
What makes Brunei an attractive proposition, according to the AAD, is its capacity for large-scale farming as well as a strategic location with access to key markets. Its political stability, infrastructure and low natural disaster risk add to its desirability.
The MPRT’s mission is, “Leading the growth of the primary resources and tourism industrial output to become a significant contribution to the growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by encouraging local and foreign investment, and giving emphasis on increasing productivity, the use of high technology and focusing on export markets.”
One aspect cannot succeed without the other, and the key to GDP growth lies in an increase in productivity, technological output and the success of local products in penetrating the export markets.
In February 2017, the Fisheries Department and KR Apollo Sdn Bhd, a joint venture between a local partner YAM Pengiran Kerma Raja Pengiran Haji Kamarulzaman and Apollo Aquaculture Group, Singapore signed a contract to operate the first land-based vertical aquaculture farm in Brunei Darussalam. The event was witnessed by the Minister of Primary Resources and Tourism Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Ali bin Haji Apong and visiting Singapore Minister of State, Ministry of Trade & Industry, Ministry of Development Dr Koh Poh Koon.
In a brief interview during the event, Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Ali noted that the project involves the farming of fish and prawns in a multi-tier farm, which saves cost of production with the minimal use of land and at the same time increases production capacity. This will enable KR Apollo to be more competitive with other countries due to low export costs. The result of this partnership is in line with the ministry’s strategic plan to increase production of the fisheries sector with the use of high-technology. The project will help the ministry meet its target to increase revenue from the fisheries sector from the B$100 million in 2015 to over B$600 million in 2020 with minimal land usage.
“Although Brunei is slightly bigger than Singapore, we too have land constraints, which is why we are focusing on the aquaculture industry. We need the right technology and system to expand our fish farming upwards instead of sideways. This over B$20 million investment will realise the production of aquaculture food–fish, and aquarium fish from this year,” said the minister.
He also pointed out that the project is set to prove that high-technology, vertical indoor farming is not only technically possible in Brunei, but is highly viable. In this particular case, it is economically and socially beneficial for both countries as Brunei needs increased output for job creation and Singapore needs a lot of seafood supply.
Dr Koh Poh Koon noted that Singapore and Brunei have enjoyed deep and warm relations for many years and collaborated in many areas including defence and finance. Investing in Brunei opens a new chapter for the two countries to deepen their cooperation efforts.
“Part of the reason why we find synergy in our collaboration is because of constraints that both countries face as small nations. At the same time, we share similar interests. So this is one good example on how two small countries can work together to further each other’s interests in a mutually beneficial way,” Dr Koh Poh Koon said.
“In Singapore we have land constraints. We are always looking for ways to diversify our food sources. Brunei is also looking to diversify its economy, so I think it is in this aspect that we see both coming together to create a mutually beneficial collaboration,” added the minister.
He added that Apollo Aquarium Fish Farm started as an ornamental fish farm, over the years has adopt- ed and developed new technology and innovation, allowing it to take farming to a higher level with guaranteed production. This enabled the farm to meet the growing market demand. “I hope that we can take this chance to encourage more Singapore farms and companies to invest in Brunei and to look for partners here to develop collaborative business opportunities,” he said.
The products by KR Apollo will be mainly for export especially to Singapore with the first batch expected to be produced by the end of this year. This will in turn contribute to an increase in the frequency of air logistics out of Brunei.
One aim of KR Apollo is to focus on forming cooperation with local farmers and utilise its technologies to increase productivity with the hope to work on further research to develop local species such as Blue Shrimp and Macrobrachium in the near future. The company also hopes to further enhance Brunei’s position in the global supply of processed seafood, in line with Brunei Vision 2035.
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