Sarawak to double oil palm plantation area


KUCHING: Sarawak, which recorded its fastest pace in opening up land for oil palm cultivation in the past one year, targets to double its plantation area to two million hectares.

State Land Development Minister Datuk Dr James Masing was optimistic that the new target could be reached by 2020, making Sarawak the biggest crude palm oil producing state in Malaysia.

Sarawak is the last frontier for oil palm cultivation as land has become scarce in Peninsular Malaysia. Sarawak still has a lot of land to be opened up, he told StarBiz yesterday.

Masing said there was an estimated 1.5 million ha of native customary rights (NCR) land, mostly under-utilised and without titles, and that the Sarawak government had identified several large tracts of state land for plantation projects.

As at June this year, he said, the area planted with oil palm in Sarawak had reached 920,000ha compared with 840,000ha a year ago.

Sarawak registered the highest increase of 4.17% (in new planted area) compared with 0.45% in Peninsular Malaysia and 1.27% in Sabah. About 77% of the plantations in Sarawak are mature, he added.

Private plantations made up about 80% of the total planted area. The major planters include Rimbunan Hijau Group, Ta Ann Holdings Bhd, Samling Group, Lembaga Tabung Haji and Boustead Group while the new investors are conglomerates like Sime Darby Bhd and IOI Corp Bhd.

The Sarawak government's earlier target was to achieve one million ha of plantation by next month.

Masing said Sarawak's crude and processed palm oil exports were worth RM4.56bil last year.

He said the palm oil industry had emerged as the state's third-largest foreign exchange earner after petroleum and liquified natural gas.

Sarawak, the first to imposed sales tax on palm oil in 2002, collected RM126mil from planters in the first six months of this year. Last year's collection of RM207mil was more than 10 times compared with RM20.1mil in 2002.

Masing said there was a strong interest from private investors and landowners to develop NCR land on joint-venture basis. However, he admitted that his ministry had been slow to facilitate the projects' implementation.

He said the ministry was bogged down by red tapes and a lack of coordination. The ministry's officials, he said, were now working to streamline the approval system to make it speedier, and to remove the red tapes.

Although the government has approved more than 720,000ha of NCR land for joint-venture development, barely some 50,000ha has been planted due to the slow process to create the land bank and to execute the joint ventures.

There is a need to look into a more aggressive development of the NCR land. My ministry is requesting the Federal Government to consider our request for funds to assist in the development of the land.

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