Fraud reports vindicate Sabah’s guarana ban, says minister

The guarana seed contains twice the caffeine content of a coffee bean but the plant may introduce South American leaf blight, the main disease affecting rubber trees. (Facebook pic)

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Agriculture and Food Industry Ministry’s decision not to allow guarana schemes to come to Sabah has been proven to be correct, says its minister Junz Wong.

Speaking to FMT here today, Wong said he felt vindicated after initially receiving backlash from some groups when he first announced the decision last month. There have now been reports that farmers and landowners in five states have been cheated out of their land by guarana-related schemes, he said.

(Guarana is a climbing plant found in the Amazon basin, with seeds containing twice the caffeine content of coffee beans. It has been used in herbal teas and energy drinks and heavily promoted by natural health companies.)

Wong said his decision not to allow guarana to be brought into Sabah was made “to avoid scandal because in the end, farmers and villagers will be the main victims”.

He said he had asked guarana promoters to apply for permission from the Sabah Agriculture Department and to adhere to procedure on plant quarantine. “However, to this day, these people have not come back to me. So, I would like to remind the people again not to fall for this.”

Wong said the main reason for the ban was bio-security. He was also uncomfortable with the people running the scheme, as they conducted talks in villages before unsuspecting farmers and landowners.

According to reports, the company that runs the scheme started promoting the guarana herbs in 2015, promising profits up to RM250,000 per acre.

The director-general of agriculture then, Ahmad Zakaria Mohamad Sidek, announced the government’s decision to ban the import of the plant and its seed, as it could introduce the South American leaf blight, the main fungal disease affecting rubber trees.

On social media yesterday, a screenshot of Utusan Malaysia’s front page report on guarana, entitled ‘Skandal Buah Brazil’ was widely shared, sparking discussion on the issue. Many people said representatives of the company promoting the scheme had been going around conducting seminars and talks in villages in Sabah for the past several months.