Federal Agriculture Marketing Authority (Fama) chairman Ishak Ismail stirs a thick mixture of ‘gula apong’ over fire as a promotional gimmick at Medan Niaga Satok in Kuching. The palm sugar is derived from the sweet sap extracted from the ‘nipah apong’ (marsh palm) tree, before it is cooked over fire for several hours, until it turns into a thick and gooey mixture that many Sarawakians recognise. With an aroma and sweetness that is very distinct from ‘gula melaka’ (coconut palm sugar), ‘gula apong’ stands as one of Sarawak’s signature agro-products and is used in many local dishes and desserts.
KUCHING: Sarawak’s ‘Gula Apong’ will soon enter the Europe market via Turkey, says Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (Fama) chairman Ishak Ismail.
According to him, the local ‘ nipah’ palm sugar is a natural sweetener and has many outstanding points, apart from being a health food and an alternative to ‘ Gula Melaka’, which is made from coconut palm and white sugar.
“We will go to the European markets through Turkey; we have had discussions with the businessmen and representatives from the Turkey government and they are very keen on taking it into the market,” he told reporters after the launch of Gula Apong as Sarawak’s signature product at Medan Niaga Satok here yesterday.
“We have several locations in Europe, Asia and Middle East to market it,” added Ishak, adding that to promote Gula Apong in the international market, it would be necessary for producers to obtain the Malaysian Good Agricultural Practices (myGAP) certification.
He also said to increase production, the palm sugar source would have to be expanded by planting more nipah trees; additionally, entrepreneurs and youths would need to take up Gula Apong production and market it not only as fresh produce, but also as Gula Apong-based products.
“I was told the response to Gula Apong- based products is quite high and I have tried these products. They taste unique and I am definite that this industry can be expanded.”
According to Ishak, Fama is collecting signature products from all across Malaysia to be launched at a national-level event set to take place in the middle of this year.
Moreover, Fama has held various activities to encourage the public, especially the youths, to take up agriculture and agriculture-based industry as these areas have great potential. The activities also set out to help entrepreneurs promote and market their products in areas like designing product labels and packaging, business-matching and direct promotion of the products to the consumers, said Ishak.
Meanwhile, Beting Maro assemblyman Razaili Gapor disclosed that Sarawak has a nipah plantation in Kampung Tambak, where the trees are planted systematically by rows over a large area.
“We need to expand so that the production of Gula Apong is continuous and we can increase output. We have launched one area as Taman Agro Nipah in Kampung Tambak as a start. It spans 10 acres for the first phase, and the government will provide facilities to help the industry.”
Razaili also talked about the issues faced by the industry at the moment, one of them being the lack of firewood to process the ‘nira’ (sap or nectar from the palm) into sugar.
An alternative would be to use electricity or gas, he said.
“We also plan to set up a one-stop centre for collection, processing and packaging at the park. We will start this year; we received the funds last year. This (centre) is in the process of implementation via the ministry and department. The amount is RM2 million.
“We also have funding through the ministry to make access road because at the moment, the manufacturers need to use boats to go to the area, but to Kampung Tambak, we can use cars and motorbikes. We need to make it 100 per cent accessible via road.”
Earlier, Fama Sarawak director Shahid Abu Bakar said the objectives of the event were to promote Gula Apong products to the locals, to highlight locallymade products to the public, to open the opportunities for entrepreneurs to promote their products, and also to increase youths’ interest in manufacturing and marketing agriculture-based products.
A total of 128 Gula Apong entrepreneurs from Kampung Tambak, Pusa took part in the event. Various booths were set up, offering products based on Gula Apong. There were also a live demonstration on the making of ‘ Kueh Penyaram’, and free sampling of items made using Gula Apong.
There was also a ‘Jom Makan Buah Tempatan’ showcase where visitors got to enjoy in-season local fruits like rambutan and durian.
Puncak Borneo MP Willie Mongin was also present at the event.
Ishak tries his hands at making ‘Kueh Penyaram’ at one of the booths in Medan Niaga Satok. Behind him are Willie (second right) and Razaili (second left).