Producing tech-savvy agropreneurs

Izah Azahari

Following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between LiveWire Brunei and the Institute of Brunei Technical Education (IBTE) on January 23, 2019, LiveWire AgroBiz is developing a 10-hectare site for Paddy Production and support the training and development of around 40 IBTE students at their IBTE Agro-Technology Campus in Kampong Wasan.

The Weekend Bulletin had the opportunity to speak to the Project Manager for Agro-Biz Haji Arine bin Haji Budin.

According to Haji Arine, they were awarded a contract to manage and run the project for the next three years for the Paddy Agropreneur Scheme.

“The programme is not about paddy planting, but is more towards the paddy agropreneurs to develop future young Brunei youths as paddy entrepreneurs with adequate knowledge in rice production and entrepreneurial skills for them to develop their own rice farms and supply chains for competitive and productive rice production,” said Haji Arine.

Currently, Wasan is occupied by ageing paddy planters and the project’s intentions are not to replace them, but to have successors in the form of paddy agropreneurs among the youth who have knowledge in the technology and a modern type of farming.

Haji Arine added that the project will develop through a complete infrastructure which includes sites, buildings, modern farming equipment such as drones and harvesters. It is also fitted with the first-of-its-kind in Brunei vertical dryer which will be more efficient in drying the paddy.

“What we have in Brunei now is basically a traditional method of drying, which is placing the paddy by the side of the road to dry under the sun using a flat-bed dryer which is difficult to control moisture content resulting in an unexpected paddy quality,” he explained.

“Using the vertical dryer will enable the control of the moisture content to 14 per cent, which is the accepted standard for rice production.”

The project will see the use of 10 hectares of land (22 acres), where Haji Arine said that the infrastructure is doing well as they are currently preparing the lot with holding ponds for the water.

“The good thing about this project is that we’re harvesting rain water from the school so we’re using more of an environmental approach to farming,” he shared.

ABOVE & BELOW: Through the Paddy Agropreneur Scheme under LiveWire Agrobiz at IBTE Agro-Technology Campus in Kampong Wasan, youths will be equipped with knowledge of modern farming techniques through the use of advanced technology such as drones, harvesters and a vertical dryer. PHOTOS: BAHYIAH BAKIR

Manager for Agro-Biz Haji Arine bin Haji Budin with Institute of Brunei Technical Education (IBTE) students at their IBTE Agro-Technology Campus in Kampong Wasan

“In addition, we’ll take the water from Sungai Tajau to fill up the ponds as well and pump water into the holding ponds up the nearby hills. This water will feed into the paddy fields naturally which we will let flow due to the static pressure up there.”

If ever there were an insufficient water supply, Haji Arine said that they can request from the Department of Agriculture from the Drainage and Irrigation Division through the pipes they have installed to get water fed into the paddy fields.

However, this is just in case they do not have sufficient water in their ponds, as they do not want to disturb the pipes because there is a higher demand for water supply to other paddy farms in Wasan, Bebuloh and Junjongan.

Touching on the use of drone technology in paddy farming, Haji Arine explained that it is now in use everywhere in the world by major rice producing countries like the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia as it is not time consuming and uses less manpower to spray herbicides and weedicides and allows for more precision farming.

This is because the drones being used particularly in Wasan are the DJI Agras, which is one of the top drone brands in the world, as these drones can coordinate the mapping and fly through the coordinates precisely compared to manual use of knapsacks or sprayers that have a tendency of missing spots in the area and are time consuming.

“For example, one hectare of land can just be finished within 10 minutes compared to the manual method, which will normally take half a day to one whole day. The use of pesticides and herbicides is also controlled using a drone, making it more economically efficient,” said Haji Arine.

With regards to investing in drones, Haji Arine said that like many things, it is expensive, but if looked at in the long term it is more economical when in use for several paddy life cycles, and in terms of the income that can be obtained from its use.

The drones, he added, are not just for the school’s use, but are intended for the provision of services to the surrounding fields in Wasan, Junjongan and Limau Manis to help individual paddy farmers with a charge as part of the business that the Agropreneurs will do.

“We will also be teaching them how to be entrepreneurs in approaching the paddy planters to offer the services, where we will charge these paddy planters for the services, and this is one area that the agropreneurs can venture into when they finish the courses after the two cycles,” he explained.

“Similarly with the vertical dryer, we will not limit it to the field here, but also offer the services to the paddy planters in the surrounding area if they want precision drying, and they can come to our mill to dry their paddy.”

The plan to start planting the paddy is set for the end of October, and the project is currently in the land-levelling phase in preparation for it, where they are in the process of liming the soil using drones to reduce the acidity, which enables the liquid lime to be sprayed precisely to at least 98 per cent of the area.

“That’s one of the approaches we want to teach to the students in terms of modern farming, as well as to the older farmers in Brunei to embrace the modern way of farming. That is the way forward for us to achieve the self-sufficiency that His Majesty is hoping for, because if you stick to the traditional way of farming we will not be able to achieve it.”

Aside from paddy, the project will also see cash crop planting such as rockmelons in a greenhouse using a fertigation system with over one hectare of land allocated for the students, as well as chilli production to add income to the programme, as it will be financed by the production of the farm itself.

Haji Arine added that at the moment the programme is only designed for the Higher National Technical Education Centre (HNTEC) in Agro-Technology, and is still in consideration on venturing into involving graduates from higher education institutions such as Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) and Universiti Teknologi Brunei (UTB) to carry out research.

“We have not decided yet, but we are currently preparing all those necessary to get that going because there are calls from other graduates who want to be involved in the paddy plantation, which is a good sign, but we will need to go to the stakeholders as it is not in the programme. So we will look into it to consider it seriously.”

Haji Arine then went on to say that he wants to see young Agropreneurs by the end of the programme who are skilled in drones, fertiliser, and services on land preparation.

“We want to see these young people be business owners of their own. At this moment not many young people are involved in paddy plantation because of the misconception of being paddy planters, but in the paddy industry there are a lot of opportunities for them to be entrepreneurs,” he said.

“There are 12 major cycles in the planting of paddy, so in those 12 major cycles, in every cycle they can do business, from site preparation, selling fertiliser, doing drone services, as well as advisory among others.”

With that, Haji Arine urges the youths of the country to join them in the Agropreneurs scheme under the IBTE Agro-Technology Campus programme.