What are the state's key agricultural initiatives and how does the ministry oversees them?
The Sabah Agro-Industrial Park started under the charge of our Chief Minister, and began as an entity of agriculture. The sector is calling for our advice in regard to animal and veterinary care. The park is very much business oriented; however, we are not conducting business, but rather making policy and issuing licenses. The government has to create the scenario in which business can be conducted, which is why we have entities like the Sabah Foundation. They are also involved in aquaculture there. Plantations, such as those grown for palm oil production, are not under our charge. We only deal with small planters, and most of the larger parts are working with the Ministry of Industry. That ministry is located at a federal level, which is where the Palm Oil Industrial Cluster (POIC) is dealt with. I am only charged with the food industry to include rice where the objective is to maximize the yield.
Has the boom in development in Sabah brought on any additional challenges for the ministry?
It has been a challenge because some of our land meant for agriculture is being taken away with the purpose of sowing paddy fields or boosting industry. This has reduced the resources we have to plant paddies. There is a competition for land use, and most of our good land is along the west coast, which also happens to be where the town centres are; therefore, the appropriate land is being developed along road connections. There is definitely competition with the palm oil sector, and today stakeholders are working to redevelop forests along the river to restore conditions for indigenous fauna.
What is the state of play in terms of transforming Sabah into a halal hub?
There is a great opportunity for this if it is implemented correctly. We are trying to import animals from Australia, slaughter them here, and then re-export them. We do not have enough room for livestock here except for chickens, whereas Australia does. We are able to export the animals that we get in with a high disease-free percentage, and we have been recognized by the World Organization for Animal Health for our advances against disease. Sabah has more land available for agriculture compared to West Malaysia, and many are looking to the land here for agricultural development. We are looking at attracting investors from overseas to use our port facilities. We do have some current limitations, such as feed resources, but there is still significant potential for poultry products to be processed downstream in the halal industry. The majority of people locally are Muslims and are keen products of this nature.