The other day, the Head Honcho of Information Technology told me that there is no way Brunei can be self sufficient in rice. Even if we cultivate the entire surface area of Brunei, we still do not have enough land to grow rice sufficient to feed the whole country. This is assuming every single inch of Brunei is cultivatable. If you were to take that there are parts of Brunei which nothing will ever grow such as mountains, bare patches, ungrowable areas (including the small lawn in front of my house), then there is even less space available to grow rice. I am quite comfortable with that assertion when he told me, if I am not, then I have to delve through three volumes of 2 inches thick each to verity it.
There are three 'huhs?' to this piece of information. The first 'huh?' is that it is quite disturbing to realise just how small Brunei is spacewise and the second 'huh?' is to realise just how much rice we Bruneians consumed in an entire year. There is nothing much we can do for the first part (maybe we can grow superfast rice with several productions a year or buy another piece of land outside Brunei like the giant cow ranch we have in Australia and grow rice there) and really there is not much we can do about the second part either (unless of course we can figure out a way of not eating too much rice as our carbohydrates requirement and eat something else as a substitute). Either way, we need to continue importing our rice. Whether we should continue to expand our local rice production or not depends on whether we want to maintain a local agriculture or otherwise. Though I have been told by a an ex-army officer turned rice grower that he can make on average around $2,000 a month growing rice in a 30 acre paddy plantation, but without subsidies, the amount would be around half that.
The third 'huh?' is why is the Head Honcho of Information Technology bothering about rice? Shouldn't he be worrying about computers and other IT related matters? The IT Department is a bit of a strange animal made up of an amalgamation of several different IT units of various departments and the old State Stores Department. State Stores Department were centrally in charge of purchasing, storing and distributing rice and sugar among many other things. Over time, the State Stores department reduced its function to supply rice and sugar only. The newly formed IT and State Stores Department were supposed to be a procurement and supply department when it was formed in the late 1990s. But it became prominent in the wake of the Y2K (the turn of the century) and became a policy department when IT and E-Government became part of the government's policy in enhancing its services to the public. But rice and sugar remained as part of the department's function together with its IT side.
It does not really matter which department is responsible. A better arrangement could be argued for but the most important fact is that the government is continuing its policy to subsidise rice that is being sold in this country and to ensure the supply of rice is sufficent for the entire country. The price that Bruneians pay is not the higher price that the government pays to our supplier overseas. Neither does the government charge for the full expenses of shipping, storing and selling the rice. At the same time, the government maintains a few months supply of the rice in its effort to ensure that there is food security to us Bruneians. The next time you eat rice, think of the government's efforts to ensure that it is there available for you and me.