BETONG, Feb 23 — Deputy Premier Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah said today that Sarawak produced 31,900 metric tonnes of pepper last year, the largest amount in the country.

He said some 38,277 farmers are involved in planting the crop on 8,015 hectares of land.

“The Betong Division is one of the state’s biggest producers, involving 2,338 pepper farmers cultivating an area of 660 hectares,” he said after opening a talk on pepper industry development organised by the Malaysian Pepper Board (MPB) at Joseph Sanda longhouse at Jambu Kerampak Layar, near here.

Uggah said in his Bukit Saban state constituency, pepper is still an important cash crop, providing steady and reliable income for the farmers.

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He also urged MPB to come up with a price support system for the commodity.

He said this would enable pepper farmers to continue to have some income when the commodity price drops in the market.

Uggah, who is also the state minister of infrastructure and port development, commended MPB for the introduction of new technology into the state pepper industry.

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He said he was informed by MPD director-general Vincent Sawat that the board is carrying out pilot projects on the application of the Internet Of Thing (IOT) and modern methods like fertigation in Semengok in Kuching as well as in Sarikei.

He said the new technology would be a new lifeline for the industry, adding that with it, pepper farmers can expect to harvest about four kilogrammes of pepper berries per vine compared to two kilogrammes on average now.

He said the new technology can also attract young farmers to venture into the pepper industry.

“The industry is very important to the state and to the rural planters who for a long time have depended on the commodity for income," he said.

He said the Betong Division Development Agency (BDDA), of which he is chairman, has set aside a sum of RM3 million to assist in the development of the industry here.

“BBDA also wants to help existing farmers tide over the cyclical downtrend in the market price so that they can maintain their farms,” he said.