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By Super

It’s the middle of February and Wasan – currently Brunei’s largest actively farmed rice field – is buzzing. It’s the main harvest season, where paddy grains emerge at the end of rice shoots, infusing some 286 hectares of verdant, green farmland with a golden-yellow sheen.

Overlooking his lots of five hectares, Hj Mohd Sahlan Hj Hidup, chairperson of Koperasi Setia Kawan (KOSEKA) – Wasan’s largest tenant and Brunei’s biggest rice producer – is quietly confident that they will yield their largest harvest yet.

“This is our first harvest of Sembada(188),” says the 60-year-old of the new hybrid rice strain. Jointly developed by Indonesia’s Biogene Plantation and Brunei’s Department of Agriculture and Agrifood (DAA), Sembada is being commercially piloted over 38 hectares and along with another hybrid titith, are being touted to usher in new levels of productivity to Brunei’s rice fields that will hopefully drive the nation’s ambitions of self-sufficiency.

“Some are reporting yields (from Sembada) high as five to six (tonnes). That’s nearly double Laila and MRQ76.”

Today, Wasan is known as the heart of the Sultanate’s rice production, but few know that the project dates back to 1978 when it debuted as Brunei’s first large scale, mechanized rice planting experiment.

Fewer know that it failed to take off initially, reverting to a bush-like state after being abandoned, and that it was Hj Mohd Sahlan – a retired Lieutenant Colonel – who marshaled a bastion of retired military members to answer His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam’s call for food security by reviving it in 2006.

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