SWEET LABOUR:

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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.

— Ber­nama photo

— Photo by Muham­mad Rais Sanusi

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).

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