By Emin Madi
KOTA KINABALU, May 19 -- The Sabah Rubber Industry Board (SRIB) contributed RM132 million last year, or RM11 million a month on average, to the income of rubber smallholders and tappers last year, said its general manager Sabdil Tanjong.
He said SRIB is presently managing 160,425.15 hectares of rubber plantation with 60,400 smallholders and 29,551 tappers registered with the board. These smallholders and tappers sell their rubber products to the board.
According to him, the rural community, especially the rubber smallholders and tappers, contributed much to the economy and SRIB plays an important role as rubber planting has long been synonymous with the rural people in Sabah.
"The rubber smallholders and tappers in Sabah who are registered with SRIB are probably the least worried group in terms of marketing their rubber products, because the state agency is fully supporting them. SRIB rubber purchasing staff are located at 15 district offices throughout Sabah.
"Our staff will go to their farms no matter how far they are situated. That’s our main responsibility; we look after the welfare of every rubber smallholder by guaranteeing to buy their rubber products,” he told Bernama in an interview here.
From 2012 to 2020, SRIB successfully carried out rubber planting projects for 44,213 hectares of land or 692 blocks, which involved a total of 14,012 participants.
“We have to maintain the rubber plantations belonging to smallholders as far as Kampung Agis in Nabawan and Kampung Tabatu in Paitan, in Sabah’s interior regions which are not fully accessible by road. So sometimes, during rainy seasons, we need to travel by sampan for part of the journey to reach their place," he said.
To supplement the smallholders’ income, SRIB introduced the Additional Economic Activity (AET) Programme, in 2018.
The programme, involving 4,488 participants, focuses on providing assistance for ginger, black pepper, and fruit planting as well as stingless bee farming.
He said the Rubber Settlement Scheme was established in Sabah in 1979 as part of SRIB's effort to uplift the living standard of the landless rural villagers.
This has resulted in the setting up of five rubber settlement schemes in Tenom (two schemes), Keningau, Sipitang and Tuaran, and SRIB plans to open up a new rubber settlement scheme in Lingkabau, Sugut, in the interior of Sabah.
"We have already submitted our proposal to develop 1,500 hectares of land into rubber plantation to the authorities concerned,” Sabdil said.
On top of that, SRIB has also taken the bold step of changing one of the factories in Beaufort from producing specialty grade rubber to producing latex concentrate in order to attract latex-based investors in the downstream industry, namely in the production of gloves, pillows, condoms and mattresses.
The general manager said Sabah’s current yearly production capacity of latex concentrate is only about 4,000 metric tonnes, whereas Malaysia needs 450,000 metric tonnes per year.
“To support the rubberwood-based downstream industry, SRIB is also supplying rubberwood sourced from estates undergoing replanting to furniture factories in Sabah,” he said.
Sabdil said empowering rubber smallholders in Sabah is a huge challenge for SRIB.
He noted that this is also due to the commodity’s price not always being favourable, as well as the lack of infrastructural facilities and limited development funds.
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