KUCHING: Deputy Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities Willie Mongin refuted talks of Sara Spice Berhad (SSB) taking over the pepper purchase operation from Malaysian Pepper Board (MPB).
Calling it a baseless allegation, he said while SSB is involved in purchasing pepper from smallholders, it remains a subsidiary of MPB and functions as the Board’s investment arm.
He explained SSB was purchasing pepper from smallholders at affordable and competitive prices, which in turn triggers a domino effect towards increasing the ceiling selling price for the commodity.
“It (allegation) is not true. We still give licences to existing middlemen. This is to create healthier competition because without this aspect, existing middlemen will misuse their functions and buy pepper in bulk from smallholders (at lower price).
“In fact, sometimes the middlemen take the opportunity to pressure the smallholders, but with SSB, this MPB subsidiary can buy (pepper) at a higher price.
“When SSB buys at a higher price, the middleman has no other way but to buy at a higher rate or the same as SSB’s, thus benefitting the pepper smallholders,” he said yesterday.
Willie was responding to news reports on a suggestion made by Meluan assemblyman Rolland Duat for MPB, which is now a federal agency, to be placed back under the jurisdiction of Sarawak.
Rolland suggested this when debating at the recent State Legislative Assembly sitting, saying he was concerned by news of SSB taking over the pepper purchase operation.
The assemblyman had also said he was worried that the move would cause the interests of smallholders to be marginalised because SSB would ‘be more concerned with making profits than the interests and issues of smallholders’.
Willie explained that MPB, since its establishment in 2007 under the MPB Act 2006 (Act 656), has always focused on and emphasised the welfare of pepper smallholders especially in Sarawak which accounts for 98 per cent of all pepper smallholders in Malaysia.
He said a total of RM47.6 million was provided for development allocation in the 11th Malaysia Plan (11MP) to MPB in particular to help pepper smallholders.
“Meanwhile, through the Prihatin 2020 economic stimulus package with allocation of RM16.1 million, a total of 28,815 farmers who have mature pepper trees aged three years and above have received RM14.1 million as of Oct 31.
“The remaining RM2 million will be channelled soon. Assistance programmes for pepper smallholders will be continued under the 12MP (2021-2025) through the Development Pepper Industry Programme,” he said.