Potential for new cocoa plantations enormous, says board

KUCHING: Malaysia might be the world’s fifth largest grinded cocoa and products exporter, however, some 99% of the raw material, the cocoa beans itself, is imported.

The tremendous shortfall is best illustrated in the great reduction in the country’s cocoa plantations, from a peak of 400,000ha in 1990 to just 11,000ha in 2012. The Malaysian Cocoa Board (MCB) says the potential for new plantations is enormous, but so are the challenges.

Today, there are about 16,000ha of cocoa plantations nationwide, mostly in Sarawak (5,000ha) and Sabah (5,500ha).

MCB director-general Dr Lee Choon Hui said most cocoa farmers converted plantations in the 1990s, when prices dropped, into oil palm estates, which saw prices soar in the same period. Other cocoa farmers let their plantations deteriorate.

“But by the year 2020, we aim to have about 40,000ha of cocoa plantations in Malaysia. Hopefully production (of beans) would exceed 60,000 tonnes,” Lee told a press conference yesterday.

“In terms of production rate, the highest productivity in the country is at roughly six tonnes per ha. We have good planting materials and we are leading the world in terms of material development... There’s a lot of money involved, all we are seeking for is more hard work,” Lee added.

According to Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Douglas Uggah Embas, Malaysian cocoa grinders and production companies are importing about 300,000 tonnes of cocoa beans every year. “Our own cocoa bean production is only 3,000ha annually. The balance is imported from all over the world,” Uggah told reporters.

The minister said production volumes at new plantations tended to be low by about half compared to matured plantations. Some new plantations were only producing as little as 300kg per ha per year, he said.

He said the Government would offer incentives to rehabilitate ageing plantations, encourage regrowth at neglected plantations and expand existing estates.

Uggah also said he liked to see more bumiputra farmers take part in cocoa planting.

He said, out of the RM3.6bil cocoa industry annual exports from Malaysia, only about RM10mil involved bumiputras.

“I know RM10mil might sound like a lot, but it’s so small percentage wise compared to RM3.6bil. Our target is for bumiputra cocoa entrepreneurs to contribute about 10% to the exports by 2020.”

The minister and MCB director-general were speaking to reporters yesterday after opening a training for facilitators on the “Cocoa Safe Project”, which involved foreign agencies like the Standards and Trade Development Facility, Commonwealth Agriculture Bureau International and International Cocoa Organisation.

The training was being organised in Malaysia as part of the Government’s National Blue Ocean Strategy.

It focuses on standardised sanitary and phytosanitary practices in the supply chain. According to a MCB press statement, the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points method is being promoted here, highlighting the right ways to use pesticides, for instance.

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