GUA MUSANG, September 11: Some 300 East Coast Economic Region (ECER) locals, including 209 participants of the South Kelantan Agropolitan (SKA) project, are expected to benefit from the basic course on cocoa planting technology which they participated in recently.

Known as Kursus Asas Teknologi Tanaman Koko, the three-day cocoa farming technology course was organised by the Malaysian Cocoa Board (MCB) in collaboration with the East Coast Economic Region Development Council (ECERDC) and South Kelantan Development Authority (KESEDAR). The course was aimed at helping the participants gain the fundamental knowledge of cocoa farming, which has been identified as one of the secondary economic activities for SKA.

ECERDC Chief Executive Officer, Dato’ Jebasingam Issace John said the course will be beneficial for the SKA participants as they embark on cocoa cultivation in small plots around their houses, which in turn, will help them boost their household income.

Kursus Asas Teknologi Tanaman Koko & Pelancaran Koko Untuk Rakyat, which is part of the New Cocoa Planting Programme 2012, was officially launched today by the Deputy Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities, YB Dato’ Hamzah Zainudin who was represented by the MCB board of member, Y.Bhg. Dato’ Hj Hilmi Bin Hj Yusoff at Taman Agropolitan Rantau Manis.

In addition to the 209 SKA participants, the course also involved 50 locals from the Rantau Manis area and 4 participants from various other parts of Kelantan, as well as 7 participants from Terengganu and 30 participants from Pahang. During the course, they were exposed to grafting method, weed control, crop formation and fertilisation method, as well as pests and disease control to ensure optimum cocoa production.

The SKA is the second Agropolitan project introduced by ECERDC after the launch of Agropolitan Pekan in Pahang in 2009. The Agropolitan project is a social development initiative introduced by ECERDC in its effort to eradicate poverty within ECER and narrow the economic disparities between rural and urban areas, in line with the New Economic Model (NEM).

The primary economic activity for SKA participants is oil palm plantation, whereby more than 9,900 hectares of land have been earmarked for this purpose. This will be supported by cocoa farming as the secondary economic activity for SKA participants, who will also be involved in various downstream activities such as cocoa grinding operations, producing chocolate products and other related entrepreneurial projects.

In YB Dato’ Hamzah Zainudin’ speech which was read out by Y.Bhg. Dato’ Hj Hilmi Bin Hj Yusoff, he commended the efforts by ECERDC, KESEDAR and MCB in promoting cocoa cultivation, especially among the SKA participants and ECER locals through the New Cocoa Planting Programme 2012, he said in his speech read by Dato’ Hj Hilmi.

Under the New Cocoa Planting Programme 2012, MCB together with ECERDC and KESEDAR are opening up 76 hectares of land for cocoa cultivation to the locals and SKA participants.

The cocoa industry promises a bright future locally and globally with lucrative returns, he said. Hence, this initiative is part of the Government’s efforts to encourage cocoa farming, as well as increase cocoa farmland and exports from Malaysia. In addition, SKA has also been identified to become the centre for cocoa farming in Kelantan, added YB Dato’ Hamzah Zainudin.

He also said the skills learnt from today’s training will help the locals and SKA participants to earn up to RM7,275 per tonne of dry cocoa seeds in the market.

The MCB director-general, Dr. Lee Choon Hui said the selected participants under this programme will receive an annual incentive of RM8,000 per hectare of cocoa farmland. They will also receive 1,000 cocoa seedlings, fertiliser, agriculture input, invitation to attend cocoa farming courses and farm clearing assistance.

In Kelantan, 567 hectares have been planted with cocoa, of which 166 hectares are in the Rantau Manis area of Gua Musang.

“Demand for dry cocoa seeds has always outpaced supply. Therefore, the high demand will spur cocoa seed prices and provide a stable income source to the participants,” Dato Issace added.

Under the SKA project, ECERDC will also provide a total of 625 houses by 2015 to the SKA participants, as part of a resettlement scheme which will give these poor families new economic opportunities and better residential facilities. A total of 315 new houses for SKA participants have already been completed by early January this year, whereby 209 participants have already moved into their new homes. The remaining participants are expected to follow suit by the end of 2012.

ECERDC is also upgrading the Water Treatment Plant in Rantau Manis to a higher capacity of 5.9 million litres per day from the current 1.9 million litres per day to cater to the needs of the Agropolitan community and its surrounding areas.