Monday, October 17, 2016

Brunei in 1888

Brunei in 1888
By Rozan Yunos

Sometime in 1888, Vice Admiral Sir Nowell Salmon, VC, KCB, was cruising off the coast of Borneo according to the newspaper The Illustrated London News on 13 October 1888. He stopped in Brunei and met Sultan Hashim Jalilul Alam Aqamaddin ibni Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin, the 25th Sultan of Brunei. Sultan Hashim ascended the throne in 1885 after the death of Sultan Abdul Momin. Vice Admiral Sir Nowell Salmon was the commanding officer of the British Naval squadron on the China station.

The newspaper also reported that the island of Borneo had not yet been thoroughly explored. It noted that there were three states, that of Rajah Brooke’s Sarawak, the area occupied by the British North Borneo and Brunei. It also reported that the Dutch Government has formed settlements in the southern and western parts of Borneo, which are administered in connection with Java, but the interior, with its “primitive tribes of natives” is pretty much left to itself.

The Illustrated London News ran a number of articles on Brunei during that century. On 13 December 1845, it wrote about the capital of the “kingdom of Borneo Proper, or Brunai” which contained “a considerable number of houses, built on posts, four or five feet high, which, at the rise of the tide, allow the water to pass freely under them. The streets are formed by canals, either natural or artificial, which facilitate communication; and they are always covered with boats, which are managed by women with great dexterity… the Chinese find it advantageous to build their junks here; for, though the island has no teak, it produces other kinds of good ship-timber, among which is the camphor tree.”

On 27 June 1857, it ran another article entitled ‘Bruni’ and it described the capital of Brunei which the Europeans then refer to as Borneo Proper. It described Brunei, “most of the houses are built on piles, the remained being erected on the ground. At the back of these tenements the hills gradually rise, with their upas and other trees growing on them … at a distance the locality is miserable to behold, but on a near approach the lively and busy aspect which usually pervades the town produces a very different impression.”
“There being no shops in Bruni, bargaining in many sort of articles is pursued in the little craft which lies off the town. Several Chinese junks navigate the river … there are two streets in the town, intersecting each other, forming an irregular cross, and dividing it into four sections. The palace is large but as incommodious as the houses. Iron is so scarce as to be sufficiently valuable to be used as money. The lower orders of people wear a conical straw hat, with a very wide brim; and others are but slenderly clothed. The population (whose number is uncertain) chiefly consists of Malays, who indicated their citizenship by calling themselves Brunese.”

In the 1888 article, the newspaper described the town of Brunei, as the place “where the Sultan resides, is situated at the head of the Gulf of Labuan, only thirty miles from the little island of Labuan, with its British official residents, and is regularly visited by steamers from Singapore.”

“The inhabitants of the town, numbering 12,000, are Malays, with some Dyaks, and there are no Europeans living there. Our correspondent, the Rev. O’Donnell Ross Lewin, naval chaplain to H.M.S. Audacious, who has favoured us with Sketches of Borneo describes Brunei as a town actually built in the water, the houses being erected on piles. It stand in the estuary of a river, and can be approached only by small vessel.”

“The Sultan’s palace is entered by a ladder. The Sultan is a stout old Malay, of a reddish-brown complexion. He wore a blue jacket, a very large girdle, with an ornamental creese stuck in it; a sarong or short gown, and white trousers. His velvet cap was worked with gold embroidery to resemble a crown. His Prime Minister attended to him.”

By the1880s, Brunei’s situation was quite dire. More territories had been lost to both Rajah Brooke’s Sarawak and the British North Borneo company. Sultan Hashim in 1887 appealed in a letter to Queen Victoria not to allow the cession of more territory and Sir Frederick Weld, the Governor of the Straits Settlement was sent to investigate the situation in Brunei. 

Sir Frederick Weld was sympathetic to the case put forward by Sultan Hashim. He recommended that the solution was to be similar to that already applied to the Malay states which was to appoint a British Resident to assist the Sultan in administering the state. However Sultan Hashim while welcoming the protectorate was not as enthusiastic in accepting a Resident. At the same time the British Government also considered placing a Resident in pre-oil Brunei as too expensive.

The Treaty of Protection was signed on 17 September 1888. The Agreement gave the British Government no right to interfere with the internal administration of Brunei. Similar agreements were also signed by the British Government with Sarawak and British North Borneo. 

The Agreement prohibited Brunei from ceding or alienating territory to any foreign state, or the subjects or citizens thereof, without the consent of the British Government. The British Government was also anxious to prevent a situation in which the German or the French might interfere.

The Illustrated London News had often reported about Brunei and the disintegration of Brunei throughout the 19th century can be read throughout those years in the newspaper. However, its British readers may not realised it at that time. 

DJM Tate in the book ‘Rajah Brooke’s Borneo’ (1988) which compiled all The Illustrated London News articles about Borneo and Brunei noted that “it would be difficult for the ILN reader to detect that, as far as the Malays of Brunei were concerned, they were engaged in a desperate if silent struggle to preserve their political identity. Ever since the fatal cession of Labuan in 1846, they had watched as the various districts of Brunei fell piecemeal into the hands of the Brookes to the west, and, in the late 1870s, into the newly-formed British North Borneo Company to the east.”

Tate credited Governor Weld for the survival of Brunei, “by the time of Admiral Salmon’s visit to the Brunei Court in 1888, the ‘Scramble for Brunei’ was in full swing and matters were reaching a crisis. In fact, it was only the last minute intervention of Sir Frederick Weld, Governor of the Straits Settlement, that prevented the Sultanate from disappearing under the sway of either, but placed under direct British protection, an event which took place in the year of Salmon’s visit.”

During the years after 1888, despite the treaty, Sultan Hashim felt that the British were not much interested in really protecting Brunei. Limbang was taken by Rajah Brooke in 1890. 

Sultan Hashim tried to seek help from Sultan Abdul Hamid of Turkey. It was then the British sent Malcolm McArthur to look into Brunei’s situation. In 1906, the first British Resident was in Brunei after the Supplementary Agreement to the Treaty of Protection was signed in 1905/1906. Sultan Hashim died in May 1906.

/End of Article

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Brunei's Deep Offshore History, Sunken Wrecks


Brunei's Deep Offshore History, Sunken Wrecks
By Rozan Yunos

A RECENT talk at the Institute of Asian Studies, Universiti Brunei Darussalam entitled The Offshore Deep History of Brunei Darussalam combined two interesting topics — that of the history of the millions of years of the underwater geological development in the formation of Borneo Island and Brunei, and the history of maritime shipwrecks especially those of the Second World War.

The talk was given by Dr Antonino Briguglio, a Senior Lecturer of Micropalaeontology and Biostratigraphy at the Faculty of Science and Dr Frank Dhont, a Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Asian Studies.

Borneo Island and Brunei can be considered ‘new’ geologically having spent much of its time underwater and only rose up to be Borneo Island probably in the last few million years, a long time for human beings but a very short time in the life of the earth.

The changes of the physical structure of the island and the changing levels of the sea have allowed for the formation of fossil fuels which were derived from organic materials washed down ancient rivers down to the deltas which are now submerged under the sea. The same ancient rivers also created a fairly deep and wide incision out of the Brunei Bay now known as the Muara Channel, whose deepest point according to the marine maps is 79 metres.

During World War II, with its abundance of oil, Brunei was considered a very important and strategic prize. Dr Frank Dhont stated that the oil from Borneo and Brunei is estimated to have supplied up to 35 per cent of the Japanese refined petroleum products. Despite the British attempts to deny oil to the Japanese by destroying the oil wells in Seria and Miri, the Japanese were able to bring production back for these oil wells. The Japan Times and Advertiser newspaper on March 25, 1942 had the headline “Borneo Oil Wells Gushing Abundantly”.

The Brunei Bay was an important place for the Japanese warships fighting World War II. In the crucial Battle of Leyte, there were a few Yamato Class Battleships which refueled in Brunei in October 1944. By winning the Battle of Leyte, the Americans were able to lay the foundation to recapture and liberate the entire Philippine Archipelago and ended almost three years of Japanese occupation.

Among the Japanese battleships which refuelled in the Brunei Bay were the Musashi which sank in the battle and the Yamato which was damaged. Serving the ships refueling for the battle were many huge oil tankers. These have been identified as Itsukushima Maru, Nichei Maru, Omurosan Maru, Ryoei Maru, Banei Maru and Yuho Maru. Two additional oil tankers, the Hakko Maru and Nippo Maru arrived too late to help refuel the ships.

Many of these and other Japanese oil tankers were later sunk during the war. The Itsukushima Maru sank at the north of Borneo on October 27, 1944, the Nippo Maru sank in Kudat also in October 1944, the Yuho Maru sank in Miri on November 26, 1944, the Atago Maru also sank in Miri on November 3, 1944, and the Banei Maru sank near Busuanga on November 6, 1944.

Another Japanese oil tanker, the Baei Maru sank on October 28, 1944 in the Brunei Bay with three crew members dead. The shipwreck is now lying in the deeper waters of Brunei.

There are two other World War II shipwrecks in the Brunei Bay. One is known as the American Wreck and the other is known as the Australian Wreck. The American Wreck is a US naval ship, the USS Salute but the Australian wreck is not an Australian ship but a Japanese ship erroneously said to be sunk by the Royal Australian Air Force.

According to Wikipedia, the ship USS Salute (AM-294) was a US Navy oceangoing minesweeper. It was only about three years old when it sank in the Brunei Bay in July 1945 towards the end of World War II. The ship was built by Winslow Marine Railway and Shipbuilding Company in Seattle in November 1942, launched in February 1943 and commissioned in December the same year.

The USS Salute was fairly well armed as an Admirable-class minesweeper. She was 56.24 metres long, weighing about 795 tonnes with a top speed of 15 knots and carried a crew of 104. She was armed with one 3-inch/50-calibre gun, one twin Bofors 40mm guns, six Oerlikon 20mm cannons, one Hedgehog anti-submarine mortar, four depth chargers projectors (K-guns) and two depth chargers track.

In March 1944 she was in Hawaii and between April and September 1944, the USS Salute escorted convoys between Pearl Harbor, Majuro, Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Guam and Saipan before joining the US 7th Fleet for the Leyte invasion. The USS Salute stayed in Leyte for the next few months as she carried out local patrols and sweeps. The USS Salute also joined in subsequent landings in the Philippines from December 1944 until April 1945 and later to Morotai to prepare for operations in the Netherlands East Indies in May 1945.

On June 7, 1945, the USS Salute began the pre-invasion sweep for the landings in Brunei Bay. It was on June 8, 1945 that she struck a mine, buckled and both bow and stern began to sink.

Even though two landing crafts attempted to salvage the ship, the crew was unable to control the flooding and the ship sank. The USS Salute now lies in 30 metres of water in the Brunei Bay. The ship broke into two pieces and one piece lies across the other.

The Australian Wreck lies south west of Rusukan Besar Island about 23 km from Labuan, not far from the American Wreck. Some say that it is called the Australian Wreck because the ship was sunk by the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II but there are some uncertainties about the details of the ship and its sinking.

According to a diving website, the wreck is of a ship which used to be a cargo and passenger steamer originally named SS De Klerk, built in Amsterdam in 1900 (some say 1909) by Nederlandsche Scheep, Maatschappij. She was operated by the KPM (NV Royal Packet Company) plying around the Dutch East Indies area serving the Indonesian islands, Southeast Asia and Australia. The ship was 91.4 metres long and weighing around 2,035 tonnes. She had a speed of 12 knots.

During World War II, the ship was taken over by the Dutch Indies Government at the end of 1942 to be converted as a troop carrier for the Royal Dutch Navy at Cilacap, Indonesia. That conversion could not take place as there were not enough personnel and the Dutch Navy decided to scuttle the ship instead at Dental Jonk Priok on March 2, 1942 to prevent it from falling into Japanese hands.

However, the Japanese were able to salvage the ship in November the same year and renamed it the Imbari Maru (some say it was Imaji Maru).

It was on September 16, 1944 while on a voyage from Singapore to Manila it struck a mine off Labuan and sank. Another version says that the ship was sunk by a torpedo bomb dropped by the Australian Air Force. There were 1,210 personnel on board and 339 of them lost their lives, mostly women and workers. The wreck now lies on the seabed under 21 metres of water.

World War II finally ended for Brunei when the Allied Forces landed on 10 June 1945. A Brunei-Australia War Memorial was unveiled in December 2008 at the site of the Australian soldiers landing at Muara beach.

The writer of The Golden Legacy — the longest running column in The Brunei Times — also runs a website at

The Brunei Times

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Latest Brunei Report 2016 by International Monetary Fund

The International Monetary Fund posted their latest Article IV Consultation report on Brunei Darussalam. You can read it here.


IMF Executive Board Concludes 2016 Article IV Consultation with Brunei Darussalam

September 26, 2016

On September 2, 2016, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded the 2016 Article IV consultation 1 with Brunei Darussalam.

Brunei Darussalam has responded to sharply lower oil prices by launching policy reforms to transform its oil and gas-dependent economy. While the country is able to absorb the oil revenue slump for several years by drawing on buffers built over the past decades, the authorities have begun a process of structural reforms to reconfigure the government towards enhanced economic performance, combined with fiscal adjustment to ensure long-term sustainability and intergenerational equity.

Real GDP in 2015 registered a smaller decline than in the preceding two years. Oil production, in particular, has been recovering since the second half of 2015 from protracted disruptions since 2012 related to oil facility maintenance and refurbishment. Activity in the non-oil and gas sector slowed due to fiscal consolidation and lower services linked to the oil and gas sector, but was partially offset by government infrastructure construction projects. Inflation averaged -0.4 percent in 2015, driven by the appreciation of the Singapore dollar to which the Bruneian dollar is pegged, relative to neighboring countries which are major sources of Brunei’s imports. The current account surplus narrowed mainly on lower oil and gas exports, while the fiscal balance turned into a large deficit.

Real GDP is projected to turn positive in 2016 on the back of a recovery in oil production, but growth will remain moderate until 2019. Lower oil prices are projected to keep the fiscal position in deficit for several years. The current account is projected to register small deficits in 2017 and 2018 due to low oil prices and imports associated with the construction of FDI projects. Nevertheless, growth and macroeconomic balances are expected to strengthen markedly from 2019 onwards as new energy downstream facilities come on-stream. Main risks arise from lower-for-longer oil prices that could severely erode the fiscal position, while delays in production from these new facilities could dampen the medium-term outlook. Slow progress in structural reforms could dim prospects for economic diversification.

The Brunei authorities are implementing measures to adjust to lower oil prices, raise productivity, enhance efficiency, and promote economic diversification. Fiscal adjustments began in the latter part of 2015, aiming to better prioritize expenditures toward economic diversification and efficiency. A cabinet reshuffle in October 2015 led to a reconfiguration of ministries and agencies, resulting in an institutional structure that is better synchronized to improve economic performance and government delivery. Newly created agencies would reinforce this, with the Foreign Direct Investment Action and Support Center facilitating a clear and efficient process for FDI in Brunei, and Darussalam Enterprises providing a one-stop venue for wide-ranging support to small and medium enterprises. Ongoing reforms have been reflected in recent improvements in business environment indicators. In addition, Brunei continues to use its participation in recent international trade agreements to widen market access and transform the domestic economy by raising competitiveness and making the business climate more predictable and transparent in order to attract new investment.

Executive Board Assessment 2

Executive Directors noted that, after over a decade of sizable fiscal and external surpluses from high oil prices, Brunei Darussalam’s economy is adjusting to a challenging environment of a prolonged period of low oil prices. While the country has sizable buffers, Directors commended the authorities for using the opportunity provided by the low oil prices to reconfigure policies to support enhanced economic performance, long term fiscal sustainability, and intergenerational equity. Against this backdrop, Directors underscored the importance of continuing to push ahead with fiscal and structural policy reforms to strengthen and diversify the economy.

Directors agreed that the FY2016/17 budget provides an appropriate target for fiscal adjustment, but it needs to be buttressed by tight spending controls, increases in non-oil revenue, and improvements in public financial management. Directors noted that the fiscal policy strategy should be anchored in a multi-year program of structural fiscal reforms to improve the efficiency and composition of public spending, while supporting growth. In this regard, they called for measures to tackle price and wage distortions in order to increase the attractiveness of private sector employment as well as promote growth in the non-energy sector. Directors urged freezing the wage bill and reducing untargeted subsidies, particularly through fuel subsidy reform, accompanied by mitigating measures to protect the vulnerable, where appropriate.

Directors noted the banking system’s strong capitalization and liquidity. At the same time, they observed that an uptick in non-performing loans and shifts in the domestic banking landscape involving the entry and exit of foreign banks, call for close monitoring. In this regard, the exit of the largest foreign bank should be well phased and coordinated to minimize disruptions and preserve financial stability. Directors encouraged the authorities to strengthen bank supervision in response to emerging pressures on asset quality and to further develop domestic financial markets.

Directors considered that the currency board arrangement with the Singapore dollar has served the country well and remains appropriate as it provides a credible nominal anchor.

Directors commended the recent progress in structural reforms, and encouraged the authorities to sustain efforts to improve the ease of doing business, and promote economic diversification and private sector development. They emphasized the importance of developing human capital, enhancing labor productivity, and expanding international trade linkages. Directors concurred that the high standards embedded in Brunei Darussalam’s international trade agreements could broaden market access and help drive reforms to raise competitiveness and productivity. They welcomed the continued efforts to improve statistics and build technical capacity, and encouraged the authorities to undertake a data ROSC.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Appreciating Brunei's Landmarks in Digital Game


Brunei’s Landmarks in the Digital Game

By Rozan Yunos

The current worldwide phenomena of the new digital augmented reality game, ‘Pokemon Go’ has also caught on by many in Brunei Darussalam. The usage of Brunei’s landmarks and architectural icons as ‘Pokestops’ or places where game enthusiasts can collect their balls to be used to catch their digital monsters have led to a number of Bruneians visiting some of these places for the first time ever in their lives.
The car parks around the various recreational parks and places were suddenly seeing record number of cars which were virtually unimaginable before. At the Damuan Park, much to the chagrin of regular runners and joggers, many new visitors can be seen wandering around the park with a number of them reading the various signboards which described the ASEAN sculptures which have been there since 1987, almost thirty years ago. 

It would be good if those same players during their visits to the various stops would also take time to appreciate the landmarks and the heritage of what Brunei Darussalam has to offer.

There are a few stops in front of the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. During the height of the game’s popularity, the road in front of the mosque would be jammed solid full of cars slowly crawling in front of the mosque as the players and occasionally the driver too, could be seen swiping their fingers across the screen of their mobile phones trying to collect balls and catch the digital monsters appearing on their screens. 

At the same time, it would be nice if those same players should also note that the mosque is not just another stop but an important icon for Brunei. It will be celebrating its 58th anniversary on this 26th September. 

It was 58 years ago that His Highness Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien officially opened Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. During that official opening on Friday, 13th Rabiulawal 1378 Hijra, the 26th September 1958, many visitors came including the Sultans of Pahang and Selangor, the Acting Sultan of Johor, the Prime Minister of the Federated States of Malaya, the British High Commissioner and also representatives from Singapore and the Saudi Arabian Governments. More than 5,000 people turned up for the occasion.

There are many things about the mosque we do not know. The floor and the walls of the prayer hall are laid with marble imported especially from Carrara, a city in Tuscany, Italy and famous for its white or blue gray marble. Carrara marble has been used since Ancient Roman time. Some of the major Roman architectures such as the Pantheon were made from its marble. Michelangelo’s David was also carved from the same marble as well as the Marble Arch in London.

In the lagoon, lay a stone barge, a replica of a 16th Century Sultan Bolkiah’s ‘mahligai’ used to stage Al-Quran reading competitions. It was built to commemorate the new millennium of the Muslim Calendar Year of 1400 and cost $¼ million. This was completed in 1967, almost ten years after the mosque was completed and not built together as many people had assumed.

On the site of the SOAS Mosque before the mosque was constructed was a sawmill run by someone called Si Pinggang. The entire area was full of businesses cutting and sawing wood. It was said that the site was full of ‘abuk kayu’ or wood chips.

The sawmill provided planks for the entire Kampong Ayer. The wood or tree trunks were brought in through the river from Limbang. So wood trunks would be floating on the water and brought onshore to the sawmill. It was a big business and everyone who lived in the area at that time knew the sawmill.

Right across the mosque is another stop which is currently where the site for the raising of the giant flag to commemorate the beginning of the celebration of His Majesty’s birthday celebrations as well as the beginning of the National Day celebration. Before the car park and the small park for the flagpole was placed there, that site used to house the Brunei Town Police Station.

This Police Station was built a few years before the mosque was completed which was around the early 1950s. It remained there until it was demolished to clear the entire Padang for the Independence declaration in 1983. The new police station is a few hundred metres away from the old site at Jalan Stoney.

Right across the field is also another stop which is a small park to commemorate the silver anniversary of the change of name from Pekan Brunei or Brunei Town to Bandar Seri Begawan.

Pekan Brunei was first built on land around 1906 when the first British Resident declared that he wanted the town to be on dry land. It was not so easy as many people were used to living their lives on the water. It was Peter Blundell in his 1923 book ‘City of Many Waters’ who wrote about Brunei at the end of the 19th century said “… the town was unique, the only one in the world built almost entirely over the water, and the Bruneis were justly proud of it. They were folks who live a semi aquatic life, and their methods of living, household arrangements, family life, and town government, adapted as they had been to life over the water ...” 

Despite the first British Resident McArthur‘s efforts to move the Bruneis to dry land in 1906, not much progress were made. By December 1941, the dry land in Brunei Town was a small town with one major road going through it with all the houses made out of wood with nipah roof and one wooden cinema built in 1923 for night entertainment. There was a wooden mosque popularly known as Masjid Marbut Pak Tunggal, though the official name is Masjid Pekan Brunei. There was not much other than that. 

It was Sultan Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien III who worked hard to bring development to the capital city from a ruined city after the end of World War II. At the end of the war, after heavy aerial bombardment by the Allied Forces, Brunei Town lay in ruins. Even the wooden mosque Masjid Marbut Pak Tunggal was completely destroyed. According to Captain T.S. Monks in his book ‘Brunei Days’, one of the first British military administrators who came immediately after the war, there was “… hardly a building left standing in Brunei Town. The main street was a mess of bomb craters and fallen telegraph poles … there was not a soul in sight anywhere. It was a shattered ghost town … so severe had been the bombing damage that it was difficult to imagine what the town had been like ...”

It was rightly so that on 4th October 1970, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Muizzadin Waddaulah in recognition of his father’s contribution towards the modernizing of Brunei Town, renamed Brunei Town as Bandar Seri Begawan which was the title of Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien III as the Paduka Seri Begawan Sultan when he abdicated on 4th October 1967.

There are a few other stops also historical ones in the other areas in Bandar Seri Begawan such as the Secretariat Building, the Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka Building and the General Post Office along Jalan Elizabeth II. Others include the Royal Regalia Building which used to be the Churchill Memorial Museum along Jalan Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien, the stops in front of the Royal Wharf which used to house the Customs Building and the stops along Jalan Kianggeh comprising of the Lapau Building, the Youth Centre, the Chinese temple and the Tamu Kianggeh.

A player can still enjoy the game but he or she should also take time to be aware of the surroundings as well as the historical lessons from the various locations of those stops.

/End of Article

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Brunei Darussalam To Sustain Agricultural Growth


Brunei Darussalam looks to sustain agricultural growth

Rising productivity and higher output from the processing segment is keeping Brunei Darussalam’s agriculture sector on track to meet the government’s medium- and long-term goals.

Strong performance in most areas of the agriculture and agri-foods sector saw the industry’s revenue rise by 6.8% year-on-year (y-o-y) in the first quarter of the year to reach BN$97.1m ($71.2m), according to data issued by the Department of Agriculture and Agri-food (DAA) in late July. This came despite dry weather conditions, which impacted the production of rice, vegetables and cut flowers.

Growth was supported in large part by double-digit growth in the livestock and processed agricultural products segments. Livestock output was up 14.1% y-o-y at BN$6.9m ($5.1m), while processed agricultural goods expanded by 16.9% over the same period, bringing the agri-food segment’s earnings to BN$28m ($20.5m).

By contrast, the broader economy expanded by 3.6% y-o-y in the first three months of the year, the Autoriti Monetari Brunei Darussalam reported at the end of July.
Long-term plan for value-added growth

In its long-term development plan, Wawasan Brunei 2035, the government has set a target of boosting agricultural output to BN$1bn (733.3m) by 2020 and BN$3.9bn ($2.9bn) by 2035 – almost 11 times the sector’s contribution to GDP last year.

While ambitious, the last five years have already seen significant progress in agricultural development. Gross agricultural output increased from BN$230m ($168.6m) in 2010 to BN$366m ($268.4m) last year.

Future growth is expected to be fuelled by a combination of improved technology, higher levels of foreign direct investment in the sector, the use of high-yield crop varieties and the expansion of the downstream value-added component.

Boosting value addition should take on greater importance in the coming years if Brunei Darussalam it to reach its ambitious agricultural targets. With relatively limited land available for agricultural purposes, and the increasing encroachment of built-up areas into farming districts, the Sultanate will have to create more value from the land it has.

The whole country is approximately 577,000 ha in size, with only 7193 ha in use for agriculture as of 2013, according to the most recent figures from the DAA.
Halal niche

A key avenue for bringing in investment and increasing value addition in agricultural production is the Sultanate’s burgeoning halal segment, which feeds into the growing focus on processed foods.

In March of last year Brunei Darussalam invited investors from countries such as China and the UK to take part in a $300m halal industry park, known as the Bio-Innovation Corridor, located north-west of the capital Bandar Seri Begawan.

Led by the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources, the 500-ha park aims to transform Brunei Darussalam into a regionally and internationally recognised destination for halal industries.

The worldwide halal food market is worth an estimated $1.1trn, according to a study by Thomson Reuters, and is considered one of the fastest food segments in the world.
Growing youth

While specialisation in value-added niches such as halal could go some way towards achieving the government’s goals, a dwindling workforce in rural areas presents something of a challenge.

According to the most recent Labour Force Survey conducted by the Department of Economic Planning and Development, out of a population of 411,900, and a total labour force of 203,600, the percentage working in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sector was around 0.6% in 2014.

As young Bruneians increasingly opt for professions in urban centres, the ageing of the rural workforce also presents productivity challenges, according to Suria Zanuddin, the head of the agricultural extension division at the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism.

“We try to involve and recruit young farmers as most of our current farmers are now ageing,” she told local media at the end of May.

The government is stepping up efforts to reverse the flow of young Bruneians into urban centres by expanding educational programmes and promoting the business opportunities of the agriculture sector through training courses.

At the Rice Farmer Field School, for example, close to 300 paddy farmers have been trained since the programme was founded in 2010.

While the expected increase in technology in the agriculture industry could help ease some of the workforce requirements, primary production is likely to remain a labour-intensive industry, meaning that government efforts to promote farming as an attractive and viable career path will be crucial to developing both food security and the broader sustainability of the sector.

Inspirational Quotes