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Brunei to import more rice from abroad
Publication Date : 25-05-2012
Brunei will continue to import rice from abroad as a way to ensure sufficient security reserves, the industry and primary resources minister said yesterday.
Yang Berhormat Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Utama Dato Seri Setia Hj Yahya Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Bakar met with Thailand's foreign minister Surapong Tovichakcahikul on Wednesday as part of a working visit to tour the country's agricultural facilities, during which he discussed Brunei's import of fragrant rice from its Southeast Asian neighbour.
Though the amount to be imported in the future has yet to be identified, YB Pehin Dato Hj Yahya said import of rice is not expected to affect domestic efforts to boost production.
Any "excess amount" of rice from domestic production or abroad can be used to make value-added products, the minister said.
YB Pehin Dato Hj Yahya reaffirmed that the import of rice will continue to serve the needs of the country's "strategic reserves".
"It is in our interest to continue importing from Thailand," he told The Brunei Times yesterday.
The Sultanate embarked in late April 2009 on an ambitious national campaign to increase its self-sufficiency in rice production from a meagre 3.12 per cent recorded in 2007 to 60 per cent (equal to 18,000 metric tonnes) in 2015.
"We are still importing rice... (while also) working hard to achieve the (2015) target," the minister said.
The supply of rice from abroad will act as contingency measures in anticipation of events that can affect local rice stocks, such as agricultural diseases and other risks.
"More importantly, it will serve the purpose of building up the strategic reserves and stockpiling for the country in anticipation of any food crisis," he said.
"Even if we achieve (the target), there are still risks such as disease. So, there must be a buffer".
The focus then was to maintain the balance in the "transition" between domestic rice production and imports. With the combined stocks from both domestic and foreign production, having extra rice not consumed by the population in stock would "not (be) an issue", he added.
"Why not, if our private sectors can take full advantage of the additional and excess amount of rice for value-adding processing, producing high value products like rice flour, rice bran oil and other by-products?".
On whether local or imported rice will be used in value-added products, the minister said it would "depend on the type and quality of rice available".
At present, there are no rice processing operations in the Sultanate, although rice husks have been used as compost material to improve soil conditions during padi seedling planting.
"If there is excess (rice stocks), then we will promote added-value (production)."
Minister of Finance II Yang Berhormat Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Setia Dato Seri Setia Hj Abdul Rahman Hj Ibrahim said during the State Legislative Council session in March this year that Brunei plans to diversify its sources of rice imports not only from Thailand, but also from other rice-producing countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.
Brunei imports more than 95 per cent of its rice from Thailand, which is sold locally at government-subsidised prices.
The Sultanate has also started importing rice on a trial basis from Vietnam. In April, Thai Ambassador to Brunei Apichart Phetcharatana expressed confidence that his country's rice will continue to be favoured by Bruneians, saying that local demand for Thai rice has increased by 25 per cent in the first quarter of this year.
"Previously, we yielded about 30,000 tonnes per year and it looks like there is a tendency to export more this year, probably up to 40,000 tonnes."
The amount of rice stocked by Brunei's State Store has been kept "strictly confidential" over food security concerns, but past statistics from 2008 state that the Sultanate had imported 31,353 metric tonnes annually. Domestic consumption for the same year was estimated at 32,880 metric tonnes.
The import of rice falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Finance.