Saturday, June 26, 2010

Scenes - Sarikei Cocoa

Sarikei Cocoa 2008

You have probably wondered what happened to the cocoa industry in Sarikei. Cocoa is not native to Malaysia and was introduced as a diversification plan by the government to increase the income of the agricultural sector. The acreage of cocoa in West Malaysia and Sabah increased between 1960-1976. Cocoa farming became popular in Sarawak in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Cocoa seeds in pods
Source: Wikipedia

Cocoa became the new darling of farmers in Sarikei initially but after rampant plant diseases and fluctuation in prices, the farmers abandoned this crop after several years. It's also more perishable compared to rubber, padi and palm oil. Now you will find an odd tree or so left in the Sarikei farms with unharvested rotting pods. The trees are probably left  there for sentimental value.

Cocoa seeds left to ferment and dry.
Source: Wikipedia

The process of harvesting is as follows. The pulp and seeds were removed from the pods and were left to ferment to remove the bitter taste. After fermentation, the pulp became liquefied and the seeds were collected for drying outdoors. You would likely recall seeing farmers donning their home made blue boxer shorts and a straw hat constantly raking the seeds left out to dry on mats. Do you remember the sourish smell of fermented cocoa seeds? There's a pilot initiative done by the Malaysian Cocoa Board to control fermentation for better taste and quality by introducing microbial culture.

Roasted cocoa seeds
Source: Wikipedia

The recent high prices of cocoa (up by 30% to RM7,600 per tonne in the past 12 months) had driven a revival of the crop in Sarawak with 20-50ha planted in Sarikei in the last 2 years. These are of higher yielding ones that are more resistant to diseases and pests.

One of the most important use of cocoa is in chocolate production. "What's the meaning of life without chocolate?" you pondered. Roasting of the seeds can be introduced to add flavours. When you nibble on your next Cadbury's chocolate bar, think again, some of the cocoa powder may have originated from the raking of the drying seeds by those Sarikei farmers wearing their homemade blue underpants under the scorching sun.


Sarawakiana@2 said...

When cocoa was introduced to the Sibu and Sarikei people there was a great deal of excitement and lots of land was bought up at inflated prices. Cocoa seedlings were sold at astronomical prices and many ran to the bank laughing.

Soon after diseases set in and cocoa prices went down. Many lost money and some wives even left their husbands!! Too little research done on the crop and many fingers were burnt. Sarawak has seen new crops coming in and many unscrupulous people conned too many farmers...sad. sad. sad. Just one side of the cocoa story.

sarikeikia said...

Early effort by the agriculture department to introduce Cocoa cultivation in lower Rajang was not successful, the cultivation of Cocoa in Sarikei seriously took off only after a group of farmer from the village in Meyna went on an agricultural tour to Tawau Sabah in the late 1970s. These group of over 10 Cantonese farmer toured the Cocoa plantation of a big time Heng Hua owner who employed a Sarikien who studied agriculture in Taiwan. With the new knowledge and seedings the farmers in Sarikei seriously cultivated Cocoa, the Meyna farmers took the lead.

I have not heard of wives abandoning their husband because of failed Cocoa farm, not from Sarikei at least. From what I know Sarikien wives are very faithful to their husband.

Daniel Yiek said...

New estates coming up in Sarawak due to high cocoa bean prices

KUCHING: New investors are venturing into cocoa plantations in Sarawak, spurred by the high prices of cocoa beans, which have soared by some 30% to RM7,600 per tonne in the past 12 months.

Malaysian Cocoa Board technology transfer division’s economic affairs assistant officer Pengarah Lau said several new mini estates had been developed by these investors in view of the strong demand for cocoa beans from factories in Peninsular Malaysia.

“Many farmers are coming back to cocoa planting as the high prices of cocoa beans have generated a lot of interest of late,” he told StarBiz yesterday.

It was reported that cocoa prices on both London and New York markets were experiencing new rallies due to shrinking stockpiles and tight supply of chocolate ingredients despite higher demand.

Bong Kim Yung So at his rehabilitated cocoa farm in Serian

Pengarah said an investor in Serian near here had planted some 100ha in the past two years while a company in Miri planned to invest up to 300ha.

There were several investors who had planted between 20ha and 50ha in Sarikei in central Sarawak in the past two years.

According to the board’s research officer Maryani Abdul Wahap, more than 6,400ha of new cocoa farms had been established with 600ha rehabilitated in Sarawak in the past four years.

Most of the cocoa farms are in Serian, Sri Aman, Lubok Antu, Betong, Sarikei, Pakan and the Sungai Asap resettlement area.

Pengarah Lau ... ‘Many farmers are coming back to cocoa planting due to higher prices.’
There are more than 5,000 smallholders in Sarawak.

Under the current 9th Malaysia Plan, the federal government allocated RM33mil to Sarawak for the rehabilitation of cocoa farms.

Planters are recommended to use high-yielding clones, which are resistant to pests and diseases.

She said the target for Sarawak under the 10th Malaysia Plan was to develop 1,200ha new farms per year, beginning next year.

This will be higher than 750ha a year under the current Malaysia plan.

Maryani said Sarawak produced 1,413 tonnes of cocoa beans in 2008, the lowest in 28 years.

Last year’s estimated production was 1,250 tonnes, a far cry from the peak production of 21,200 tonnes in 1990.

Malaysia produced nearly 28,000 tonnes of cocoa beans in 2008. Besides Sarawak, the production was in Peninsula Malaysia (21,067 tonnes) and Sabah (5,475 tonnes). During the golden years between 1988 to 1993, Malaysia produced between 200,000 tonnes and 247,000 tonnes a year.

Daniel Yiek said...

Pengarah said the cocoa industry collapsed a decade ago as the prices of dry beans plunged to as low as RM150 per tonne. Many smallholders either abandoned or chopped down cocoa trees and switched to other cash crops, like pepper and oil palm.

He said the board gave out financial aid of RM6,500 per ha per year for five years to encourage farmers to rehabilitate their farms, which could re-bear fruits in 18 months.

For new planting, the board provides agriculture inputs, like fertilisers and pesticides, and technology know-how to the farmers for three years.

Maryani Abdul Wahap ... ‘Sarawak produced the lowest tonnage of cocoa beans in 2008.’
Newly planted cocoa trees take about three years to start bearing fruits.

The average production cost in 2008 in Sarawak was RM3,900 per ha per year (with own labour).

Maryani said one ha could produce between 1.5 tonnes and 3 tonnes of cocoa beans a year depending on agricultural practices and other factors.

At the current price of about RM7,600 per tonne in Kuching (against RM9,900 per tonne in Raub and RM8,800 per tonne in Tawau, Sabah), farmers could get an income of between RM11,400 and RM22,800 per ha per year.

Smallholders in Sarawak sell their cocoa beans to exporters, who send them to cocoa grinders in the peninsula.

Daniel Yiek said...

KUCHING: The Malaysian Cocoa Board is opening up more areas for cocoa cultivation by smallholders in Sarawak, which saw its total planted area more than doubled in the past five years.

Sarawak regional officer, Nurjayadi Abdullah said the total cocoa plantation in Sarawak increased to more than 7,100ha last year, up from 2,910ha in 2005.

He said out of 2,100ha approved for planting last year, 1,220ha were developed in 2010, with the remaining expected to be cultivated by December this year. During the 2008-2009 period, 2,973ha were planted with cocoa.

“There are now more than 7,100 cocoa farmers, and more are expected to venture into cocoa cultivation in view of the good prices of cocoa beans and the assistance from the government,” he told Starbiz recently. Samarahan Division topped the list with 1,898ha, followed by Sri Aman (1,596ha), Sarikei (1,494ha), Kapit (1,433ha), Betong (377ha), Kuching (310ha) and Bintulu (74ha).

Nurjayadi said new areas which were opened up for major cocoa development in the past three years were Lubok Antu in Sri Aman Division and Pakan in Sarikei Division.

“Our target is to develop 1,000ha of new cocoa farms a year under the 10th Malaysia Plan,” he added.

At the peak in 1990, Sarawak had more than 73,000ha of cocoa plantations, including estates owned by Sarawak Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority and other companies. Cocoa beans fetched RM13,000 per tonne in the late 1970s but plunged to RM1,740 in 1992.

Many smallholders abandoned or chopped down their cocoa trees and switched to other cash crops, like pepper and oil palm, after the industry collapsed.

The prices, according to the board’s statistics, recovered significantly 10 years later to an average of RM4,400 per tonne in 2002 but dropped to an average of RM3,580 in 2005. From there, the prices started to firm up and have since remained strong. Nurjayadi said the good prices were expected to be sustained due to a shortfall in the supply of cocoa beans to grinding factories in the country.

He said the board was buying dry cocoa beans from farmers at RM7,900 per tonne, which was higher than the market price of RM6,230 per tonne in Sarawak.

The cocoa farmer marketing support service scheme ensured farmers received remunerative price for quality cocoa beans

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