Forget manufacturing, go for agriculture, activist tells Sabah govt

Sabah should produce tomatoes, lemongrass, ginger, garlic, everything people would want and sell them, says an activist.

KOTA KINABALU: A local Sabah rights activist has urged the state government to reconsider its plan to go into heavy industries and instead focus on Sabah’s strength, namely agriculture.

Speaking at a “Brainstorm Session” organised by the Sabah Economic Development Corporation (Sedco) here today, activist Zainnal Ajamain said it was pointless for Sabah to go through the same industrial process as peninsular Malaysia as the state had lagged too far behind.

“I am sorry to say but if the state industrial development ministry is thinking of developing electronics manufacturing in Sabah, that will never work. That ship sailed a long time ago.

“We cannot beat Negeri Sembilan or Penang when it comes to this kind of manufacturing industry. So, forget about it,” he said at the event which was also attended by deputy chief minister cum Sabah Industrial Development Minister Wilfred Madius Tangau.

Zainnal Ajamain.

Zainnal, who is an economist, said agriculture was Sabah’s future as it had vast arable land and a big enough population to make the state the food basket, not only for Malaysia’s 32 million people, but also for the surrounding regions, including China and India.

Sabah’s strategic location, he said, meant it had at least six hours of business time on its east and west to serve.

Being a food basket also meant Sabah would be safe from harm should any kind of conflict break up between world’s superpowers in the South China Sea, he said.

“It is logical. Nobody will invade the kitchen,” he said.

In order to make this happen, Zainnal proposed that Sabah focus its agricultural activities in the interior and the government must facilitate the process by ensuring there was a good land network to connect each farm to the ports.

“Palm oil is only one type of agriculture. We should produce tomatoes, lemongrass, ginger, garlic, everything people would want and sell them.

“Later on, we can explore downstream activities such as food processing. Instead of focusing on manufacturing electronics, focus on making tomato sauce,” he said.

Zainnal said Sabah could not keep hoping that the federal government would assist it to grow as the current system meant the federal administration would only develop the central area, leaving Sabah, and for that matter Sarawak, to fend for themselves.

For this reason, he said Sabah should no longer follow the development policies set by Putrajaya where the centre would dictate Sabah’s development funding.

Development policies must be constructed by Sabah based on its strategic location in Asia to realise its full economic potential, he added.

“Sabah should look and exploit the 3 billion population which stretches from Japan to India. They all have one thing in common – they need to eat.

“Sabah, with large tracts of land and low population density is just right to provide this new market with what they need – food.

“If Holland with a smaller land mass, compared with Sabah, can feed the whole of Europe, Sabah can serve as the food basket of Asia,” he concluded.