THERE is a plan afoot to expand the existing apple orchard at Ba’kelalan highlands in northern region of Sarawak, the only such successful plantation enterprise on Borneo Island, into “an apple growing high country”.
Mutang Tagal, managing director of Mashijau Bumi Sdn Bhd, said his company was given an initial grant of RM300,000 from the Malaysian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, in July 2010 to enable it to make a start with this expansion plan.
“Our target is to expand the present five-acre orchard at Buduk Nur that has existed and become successful owing to a labour of love for 20 years, into an apple growing high country of 500 acres,” he told the Borneopedia.com in an interview by phone on Aug 3, 2010 from Miri, Sarawak, where he is based.
Mutang Tagal (right) said a move has been made this year to encourage other farmers from the nine villagers at Ba’Kelalan highlands to start growing the fruit, that is normally grown in temperate countries.
He is confident that this ambitious expansion plan could be successfully implemented in stages, within five years.
Tagal, who is also engaged in other fields of business such as supply of materials to oil and gas industry and in construction, said Mashijau Bumi has engaged Universiti Putera Malaysia (UPM) as a research collaborator in this apple farming enterprise.
“The Bintulu campus of UPM (in Sarawak) will work with us to undertake further research and to identify materials such as apple seedlings. We shall use the existing apple orchard as a base to provide materials to other farmers.
“We are also planning to source our supply of apple seedlings from Australia, Indonesia, and even South Korea and China to ensure we get sufficient stocks to meet this expansion plan.”
He said this collaboration with UPM was a condition imposed by the ministry when awarding the financial assistance for the project.
Once the apple farming expansion at Ba’kelalan has become successful, he added, the expansion could be extended further to Long Semadoh and Long Sukang, two areas that are also within the Lawas District.
“Our expansion plan is not only confined to the growing of apples and the increase of acreage for apple farming, but we will also go into manufacturing of other apple-related products such as juice, cider, jam, chips and pies,” he said.
He noted that Long Semadoh is about a day’s walking distance to Long Pasia in the Sipitang District of Sabah.
The present apple orchard located at Buduk Nur just across the Ba’Kelalan runway, has thus far been a family enterprise, the fruit of over 20 years of patient experimentation started his father, Tagal Paran, now 76.
Mutang said despite his age, his father, better known as Pak Tagal (left), is still healthy and is actively managing the orchard that has become an icon for Ba’Kelalan apples.
“Because of that we have no choice but to expand,” he added.
He disclosed that this year’s Apple festival in May attracted a large group of visitors who witnessed the harvesting and bought up the entire yield of over three tonnes of apples.
The variety of apples gathered in May included: the Roman Beauty; Ba’kelalan apples, known previously as Mana Lagi; Anna apples; Tropical Beauty; and the Green Apple.
Among the visitors was Datuk Dr James Dawos Mamit, the Deputy Minister of Tourism, and a group of about 50 media representatives from Kuala Lumpur and other parts of the country.
Mutang said the next apple harvest is scheduled for the first week of November.
Since 2006, the Apple Harvest Festival began to appear on the annual tourism calendar of the Sarawak Tourism Board, attracting Malaysian and foreign media and other visitors to witness progress of this highland enterprise.
Visitors from Sabah could travel to Ba’Kelalan by driving from Kota Kinabalu to Lawas and, if they are adventurous enough, could move on by road for another five to six hours across a dusty and more difficult terrain on what used to be logging tracks.
Along this way by road on 4×4 vehicles, they could make a stopover at Long Semadoh as well as Long Sukang before reaching Ba’kelalan.
Alternatively, they could take a half-hour flight by MASWing from Lawas to Ba’kelalan that is available three times a week. There is also a 55-minute MASWing flight from Miri to Ba’kelelan every Wednesday.