Plan on national pepper centre

Spicy goodness: Uggah (left) being shown a round an area planted with pepper trees at MPBs premises by the boards director general Grunsin Ayom (right). Seen at centre is Noriah.

KUCHING: A national centre for pepper research and development will be set up in Semenggok, Jalan Penrissen, near here.

The project, which is undertaken by the Malaysian Pepper Board in collaboration with the Public Works Department, will kick start with a funding allocation of RM3mil this year, according to board’s director-general, Datuk Grunsin Ayom.

He said preliminary works would include land clearing on 7.28ha granted by the state government and some civil engineering job.

“The project will be implemented in phases. A centre for research and administrative building would be built under phase 1. Trial plots and a plant house will also be established.

“The proposed centre will carry out research activities on biotechnology right up to products’ development,” Grunsin told Metro Sarawak, adding that the board’s existing small laboratory at its headquarter complex in Pending here was not adequately equipped to carry out a wide range of pepper research and development activities.

He said the board was allocated RM13.8mil in development budget this year (the final year of the 10th Malaysia Plan), which was only half of RM27.3mil it received in 2014. However,it would bid for more funds under the Eleventh Malaysia Plan (2016-2020).

Sarawak contributes more than 95% of Malaysia’s pepper production estimated at 26,500 tonnes last year. Some 12,400 tonnes were exported, earning the country over RM300mil in foreign exchange in 2014.

There are some 15,500ha of pepper farms nationwide mostly owned by smallholders. Johor and Sabah are the other traditional producing states.

The sustained strong pepper prices have encouraged some investors in Sarawak to embark on commercial cultivation while farmers in Perak, Malacca and Kedah have also started growing pepper in recent years.

Pepper prices have chalked up six consecutive years of gains since 2009, with Kuching Grade 1 white pepper and black pepper currently trading around RM36,500 and RM26,500 per tonne respectively.

Grunsin expects the country’s production to increase in the next two years as new farms commence harvesting. Pepper vines take between 30 months and 36 months to start producing berries.

“The thrust of the board is to expand the planting areas and to carry out replanting activities throughout the country.”

The board would continue to provide expertise, technological advice and assistance to pepper farmers, like in the choice of high-yielding planting materials, he said.

“As there is increasing global concern on food safety, we are continuously upgrading our quality monitoring facilities. We are bidding for more funds to modernise our facilities,” said Grunsin.

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