SAMARAHAN: The international scientific and farming communities have been urged to carry out systematic research and development (R&D) to better explore and market the potential of sago as a commodity.
Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud said for a start, there was a need to increase sago plantations using high-yield species or clones.
The R&D should also go into planting sago in degraded soil so as to optimise limited land area for agriculture or land formerly planted with oil palm, and make the venture cost-effective for farmers, he said.
“We should bring in experts from Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and New Guinea to carry out a systematic sago R&D towards an economical production for the future,” he said at the opening of 2nd Asean Sago Symposium at Universiti Sarawak Malaysia (Unimas) here yesterday.
The three-day symposium — Oct 29 to 31 — themed, Advances in Sago Research and Development, is attended by 120 participants and presenters from Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines and Japan.
It is co-organised by Unimas, CRAUN Re-search Sdn Bhd, Bogor Agricultural University of Indonesia, and Food and Agriculture Orga-nisation Regional of Asia Pacific, Thailand.
Taib said the R&D was also pivotal to prevent food shortage amid escalating competition among farmers and manufacturers who turned raw food source into biodiesel these days.
“We have to do more R&D to increase our food supply. R&D in sago is relatively new compared to other commodities but I believe sago will become increasingly important.
“Sago palm is a starch producer and therefore, has the potential to produce other products. So we need to pay great attention to sago development such as increasing the size of its plantation areas,” he said.
As far as Sarawak was concerned, he said, the government planned to open sago plantations in Saratok, Mukah and Dalat areas.
He hoped that this would increase the revenue of sago palm growers, manufacturers and producers of sago starch and its by-products and uphold sago palm as a profitable commodity.
Taib said the government had started its own R&D through CRAUN Research Sdn Bhd and Unimas’ Centre of Excellence in Sago Research (CoESAR) under the Faculty of Resource Science and Technology. He said they strongly believed that the future was bright for sago to be developed further in line with the current trend of biotechnology, food technology and agriculture sciences, he said.
Earlier, Unimas vice chancellor Professor Datuk Khairuddin Abdul Hamid thanked the state government for allocating 100 acres in Mukah for setting up a sago research centre.
Sago has been widely used among Sarawakians for years as food and the state presently produces more than 90% of the sago starch exports from Malaysia.
It is one of the important commodities to the state with an annual export of around 60,000 to 70,000 tonnes with total revenues exceeding US$10mil (about RM31mil) annually.