Brunei wise to set focus on food security

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Arno Maierbrugger
By Arno Maierbrugger

Agriculture is the next sector the Brunei government has set sights on to transform its oil-dependent economy, a measure that future generations will be thankful for.

As it stands in Brunei, agriculture accounts for less than three per cent of gross domestic product, and the country imports more than 80 per cent of its food. Just around two per cent of the population are engaged in agriculture, which are figures that come close to the arid desert oil states in the Gulf, even though Brunei technically has a lot more fertile soil to exploit.

The government owns a cattle farm in Australia that supplies most of the country’s beef. At almost 588,000 hectares, this ranch is larger than Brunei itself. Eggs and chickens are largely produced locally to an extent that the country is self-sufficient, but most of Brunei’s other food needs must be imported.

Thus, agriculture and fisheries are among the industrial sectors that the government has selected for highest priority in its efforts to diversify the economy. In a first step in March, the Brunei government has announced that it would commit 1,000 hectares of land to livestock farming to help reduce Brunei’s reliance on livestock imports from Australia, which is limiting domestic production. The land is expected to be used for concentrated animal feeding operations.

There are also efforts to produce more rice and teach rice farmers in modern techniques and innovation, such as hybrid rice planting with the aim to reduce imports, as well as introduce new brands of rice on the international market. Brunei also plans to do the same with tropical fruits, and all can fit perfectly together with the country’s efforts to build up a burgeoning halal industry.

This will, however, not work without skilled investments and know-how transfers from foreign partnerships. Thus, Brunei has entered such partnerships with its ASEAN neighbours, namely the Philippines Rice Research Institute, and with Thailand in the fields of rice production, fisheries, livestock, land development and water management. Similar cooperation is on the horizon with Vietnam and China, and the government does not rule out to release more land if investor interest shows the demand for it.

The steps Brunei is undertaking is a wise decision and will balance the country’s food security. Even though there are no immediate indications of problems, things can change rapidly, as could be seen during the 2007-2008 world food price crisis.

For example, the current fragile rice policy in Thailand and the raising hunger of an ever-growing population throughout ASEAN for more food — not just rice — could distort the system easily, thus there remain a need for governments to focus on policies that provide food-based safety nets and social protection programmes, enhance agricultural productivity, promote rural development and support more investments in agricultural research.

Brunei is on the right way of doing this, and, in parallel, can lead by example through the fact that its agricultural sector is, though small, already among the most productive in ASEAN with a value added per worker of $2000 and rising, according to 2012 figures by the World Bank. This is a value other agriculture-centric Southeast Asian nations can only dream of.

 

This comment is part of Inside Investor’s weekly column series in Brunei’s leading newspaper Brunei Times and is published every Monday.

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

By Arno Maierbrugger

Agriculture is the next sector the Brunei government has set sights on to transform its oil-dependent economy, a measure that future generations will be thankful for.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Arno Maierbrugger
By Arno Maierbrugger

Agriculture is the next sector the Brunei government has set sights on to transform its oil-dependent economy, a measure that future generations will be thankful for.

As it stands in Brunei, agriculture accounts for less than three per cent of gross domestic product, and the country imports more than 80 per cent of its food. Just around two per cent of the population are engaged in agriculture, which are figures that come close to the arid desert oil states in the Gulf, even though Brunei technically has a lot more fertile soil to exploit.

The government owns a cattle farm in Australia that supplies most of the country’s beef. At almost 588,000 hectares, this ranch is larger than Brunei itself. Eggs and chickens are largely produced locally to an extent that the country is self-sufficient, but most of Brunei’s other food needs must be imported.

Thus, agriculture and fisheries are among the industrial sectors that the government has selected for highest priority in its efforts to diversify the economy. In a first step in March, the Brunei government has announced that it would commit 1,000 hectares of land to livestock farming to help reduce Brunei’s reliance on livestock imports from Australia, which is limiting domestic production. The land is expected to be used for concentrated animal feeding operations.

There are also efforts to produce more rice and teach rice farmers in modern techniques and innovation, such as hybrid rice planting with the aim to reduce imports, as well as introduce new brands of rice on the international market. Brunei also plans to do the same with tropical fruits, and all can fit perfectly together with the country’s efforts to build up a burgeoning halal industry.

This will, however, not work without skilled investments and know-how transfers from foreign partnerships. Thus, Brunei has entered such partnerships with its ASEAN neighbours, namely the Philippines Rice Research Institute, and with Thailand in the fields of rice production, fisheries, livestock, land development and water management. Similar cooperation is on the horizon with Vietnam and China, and the government does not rule out to release more land if investor interest shows the demand for it.

The steps Brunei is undertaking is a wise decision and will balance the country’s food security. Even though there are no immediate indications of problems, things can change rapidly, as could be seen during the 2007-2008 world food price crisis.

For example, the current fragile rice policy in Thailand and the raising hunger of an ever-growing population throughout ASEAN for more food — not just rice — could distort the system easily, thus there remain a need for governments to focus on policies that provide food-based safety nets and social protection programmes, enhance agricultural productivity, promote rural development and support more investments in agricultural research.

Brunei is on the right way of doing this, and, in parallel, can lead by example through the fact that its agricultural sector is, though small, already among the most productive in ASEAN with a value added per worker of $2000 and rising, according to 2012 figures by the World Bank. This is a value other agriculture-centric Southeast Asian nations can only dream of.

 

This comment is part of Inside Investor’s weekly column series in Brunei’s leading newspaper Brunei Times and is published every Monday.

Brunei Times logo

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