KUCHING: Coffee is a potential crop that could raise the income of farmers in Sarawak, but efforts are needed to improve its production and yield, says Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah.
He said Sarawak was located within the "coffee belt" (an area around the equator ideal for growing coffee), and that coffee had been cultivated in the state from as early as 1867.
"We believe in the agricultural potential of coffee here, which will allow our smallholders to find a new source of income and diversify their existing crops," he said when opening the first Borneo Coffee Symposium here on Saturday (April 6).
His speech was read by Modernisation of Agriculture, Native Land and Regional Development Ministry permanent secretary Datuk Ik Pahon Joyik.
Uggah said Sarawak produced 14.6 tonnes of coffee last year from 268ha of planted area. Coffee production in Sarawak was still low at 0.5 tonnes per hectare compared to the national average of 3.9 tonnes per hectare, he added.
"I understand this is due to many factors, such as logistics, natural environment, the type of beans planted and lack of expertise in the field.
"Therefore, we hope this first-ever coffee symposium can assist in providing professional expertise to improve the yield," he said.
According to Uggah, through the symposium, the ministry hoped to put Sarawak on the coffee map and provide opportunities for crop diversification for farmers, helping them move from subsistence to specialty production.
"While the Department of Agriculture is focusing on smallholders, the state is willing to collaborate with international players in coffee planting and downstream activities.
"Ultimately, we wish to promote the potential of Sarawak's home-grown coffee. We hope to get feedback from industry players and for smooth knowledge transfer to take place during the symposium," he said.
Organising chairman Kenny Lee said the two-day symposium aimed to come up with strategies for sustainable coffee cultivation in Sarawak.
To do this, he said, participants would share knowledge and discuss issues such as production models and grading systems for coffee beans.
"The aim is to create competitive coffee products with a distinctive flavour and improve farmer livelihoods," he said.