Department of Agriculture and Curtin Sarawak to collaborate in R&D

Professor Mienczakowski (2nd right) and Datu Lai exchanging the MoU as Professor Kuek (right) and Lau look on.

Professor Mienczakowski (2nd right) and Datu Lai exchanging the MoU as Professor Kuek (right) and Lau look on.

Kuching – 27 August 2015 – A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for collaboration in research and development (R&D) was signed between the Department of Agriculture (DOA) Sarawak and Curtin University, Sarawak Malaysia (Curtin Sarawak) in Kuching yesterday.

Signing on behalf of DOA was its Director, Datu Lai Kui Fong, while Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Jim Mienczakowski signed for Curtin Sarawak. Also present were DOA’s Senior Assistant Director of Agriculture (Research), Lau Cheng Yuon, and Curtin Sarawak’s Dean of Research and Development, Professor Clement Kuek.

The MOU signals a commitment by both organisations to strengthen, promote and develop cooperation in research in the agriculture industry, potential commercial opportunities related to the agriculture industry, training or attachment of staff and students at Curtin Sarawak, and any other areas of potential collaboration of mutual benefit to both parties.

At present, there are two initial areas of common interest, which are the development of highland rice as a niche specialty low volume/high value product and field-ready biological control agents for plant bacterial diseases.

Datu Lai said DOA, especially its Research Division, has been championing the research and promotion of local high quality rice in Sarawak. He stressed that the rich local rice biodiversity represents a valuable asset which should be tapped to increase the benefits for the farming communities and the State.

In these aspects, research work, particularly on Bario rice, has included in-depth studies of its physico-chemical properties, selection and purification of superior Bario rice lines since the late 1990s.

In addition, promotional activities were also executed locally and internationally, resulting in it being awarded a Slow Food Presidium in the Salone del Gusto at Turin in October 2002 and it was accorded the Geographical Indications (GI) status in 2008. However, Datu Lai added that further development of its marketing and branding along the supply chain needs to be enhanced.

Professor Mienczakowski agreed that there is much market potential for Northern Sarawak’s highland rice, which is generically known as Bario rice, as it is truly unique in the world. He said it is indigenous only to Northern Sarawak and Borneo and has unique characteristics, including the way it is cultivated, which could be its branding strengths.

On the other area of collaboration, according to Datu Lai, the use of antibiotics on agriculture crops is not allowed in Malaysia. With the increasing number of bacterial diseases such as the banana bacterial wilt diseases like blood disease and Moko disease, papaya dieback, bacterial wilt in tomato, brinjal and ginger, bacterial stem rot of pitaya and pineapple heart rot due to Erwinia chrysanthemi, bacterial disease management has become a major challenge.

To address these issues, the Agriculture Research Centre of DOA will collaborate with Curtin Sarawak to carry out research into bacteriophage biocontrol agents (BCA) against plant bacterial pathogens.

Professor Kuek said that the controlling of disease in horticulture has traditionally lain in chemical treatment and hygiene in crop production, but an alternative that remains largely unexplored is control via bacteriophages, specifically against target pathogens.

The main advantage of this approach is phage specificity for target bacteria. This reduces damage to normal or beneficial bacteria in the environment. Phages are abundant and diverse in nature, self- replicating, self-amplifying and self-limiting.

He said both parties will collaborate to isolate putative phages against bacteria that cause plant diseases, do glasshouse and field proving trials to test the efficacy of these phages, and in a final phase, develop large scale processes to produce proven control phages. The latter part of the R&D will take place at Curtin Sarawak’s BioValley Pilot Plant Facility which is currently being developed.

For more information on the Research Division of DOA Sarawak, visit the DOA Sarawak website at, or contact the Senior Assistant Director of Agriculture (Research) at [email protected], or call 082-611171.

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