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Post MCO – Agrobank SME Entrepreneur in Sarawak Explore Potential in Agribusiness

KUALA LUMPUR – Despite facing a number of challenges during the period of Movement Control Order (MCO) began on 18th March 2020, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) continued to strive forward by adapting to the new norms in developing their businesses. 

A special dialogue session entitled Dialog SME Sarawak discussing on solutions and insight on SME’s economic landscape in Sarawak was held in conjunction with Agrobank SME Month which was broadcast on Agrobank’s official social media site, Facebook LIVE on Tuesday 30th June 2020.

There were two (2) discussion sessions on Dialog SME Sarawak. The first session with topic (i) ‘SME’s After MCO’ featured three Agrobank SME entrepreneurs, Farah Ummi Qhairunnissa, Manager of Truffles Bread & Cake; Kartini Bujang, General Manager of Pertubuhan Nelayan Kawasan (PNK) Sri Muara and Patrick Gordon Song, Executive Director of Borneo Eco Fish Sdn. Bhd.

The second session with (ii) ‘Covid-19: SME Business Recovery & Empowerment’ was a discussion by five (5) panellists, YB Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan, Deputy Chief Minister of Sarawak; YB Datuk Haji Mohd Naroden Majais, Assistant Minister of International Trade and Industry, Industry Terminal & Entrepreneur Development; Dr. Madeline Berma, Fellow of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia; Khadijah Iskandar, Covering Duties President / Chief Executive Officer of Agrobank and Munir Ashim Abdullah, Founder of GrasiCili. The dialogue session was conducted by Nazri Kahar, Senior Editor of Astro AWANI.

Dialogue Session 1: SME After MCO

In the first dialogue session, the entrepreneurs agreed with the challenges faced during MCO following the outbreak of COVID-19.  They shared similar views that some SME entrepreneurs had to shut down their businesses due to constraints and challenges affected by the pandemic. Therefore, new marketing and business techniques as well as effective strategic plan should be implemented to ensure the sustainability of their businesses and at the same time spur the economic growth of the SMEs in Sarawak.

Farah Ummi said at first she had no choice but to accept the loss of her business. It was an unfortunate event because she had bought all the baking ingredients as a preparation for baking Aidilfitri biscuits before the announcement of MCO by YAB Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, Prime Minister. Due to the announcement of MCO, her shop had to remain closed until the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) was announced by the government starting from 4th May. However, this did not discourage her from looking for other alternatives to grow her business by utilising online marketing and sales.

“The way we do business has changed rapidly. In a meantime, I am planning to run an online baking class to continue to grow the company. Apart from that, I am also striving to be in the forefront of online business and aspire to learn more in digital and app marketing,” added Farah.

Dialogue Session 2: COVID-19 – SME Business Recovery & Empowerment

Meanwhile, in the second dialogue session, a discussion on economic stimulus package assistance and efforts to develop SMEs were the focus of the discussion during this session. In addition, SMEs and the micro industry contribute to more than half of Sarawak’s overall employment sector.

YB Datuk Amar Awang said most of the SMEs operations were halted and at the same time affecting the productivity of SME entrepreneurs. In Sarawak, the government has implemented three (3) special aid packages ‘Sarawakku Sayang’ with 28 types of assistance including SMEs with a total allocation of RM2.55 billion.

“Among the special assistance provided to SMEs are the exemption of permit fees and business licenses under local authorities and several other agencies, six (6) month postponement of payment and the exclusion of profit rate payments for small and medium-sized industries and micro credit in Sarawak,” he added.

The Sarawak government has implemented various initiatives to ensure SMEs can continue their business during this recovery period. The state government has also set up a Sarawak Economic Action Council aimed to stimulate and empower economic development in Sarawak in long term.

In addition, Khadijah Iskandar said Agrobank is constantly working to help SMEs entrepreneurs to ensure that they can generate better income especially when the global and local markets are severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“70% of our branches are located in rural areas and on top of that we also provide more than 1,000 AGROAgent terminals for customers to conduct their banking transactions. Through these banking services, it is easier for SMEs to contact and consult with Agrobank Officer in managing their business and cash flow. This is part of our initiatives to ensure more of our customers continue to succeed in their agribusiness,” said Khadijah Iskandar.

Khadijah Iskandar added, “There are various funds and financing provided by the government agencies. Agrobank welcomes a recent announcement by YB Datuk Seri Dr. Ronald Kiandee, Minister of Agriculture and Food Industries on financial relief amounting RM350 million of Micro Credit Scheme Fund for agropreneuers affected by Covid-19.”

“The injection of these funds will help SMEs and at the same time allowing them to plan their businesses during the moratorium period. It is hoped that SMEs will be able to grow their businesses not only at self-sufficiency level but to grow and build their businesses further. This has always been our aspiration at Agrobank in ensuring our entrepreneurs succeed in their businesses.”

Khadijah also advised entrepreneurs to take the opportunity during this breathing period to review their businesses in a long run. Entrepreneurs are advised to consult with Agrobank Officer to resolve their company’s cash flow issues, not only through the moratorium offer but through various other methods such as restructuring and refinancing.

When asked about the preparations that need to be taken by SMEs in facing post COVID-19, Madeline said, “At this critical juncture, we may all be in the same storm, but we are still in a different boat. Therefore, to informal sector, whether in rural Sarawak, Sabah or even peninsular Malaysia, it is advised for small traders who do not have a business license and are not registered with the local authorities to register their company and license immediately. This is important to allow them to benefit from government stimulus packages and subsequently will help them to continue their operations.”

She also reminded SME entrepreneurs to be prepared for ‘Two S’ namely ‘Security’ and ‘Safety’.  While the world is facing with the economic cycle that we have been through in 1997, 2008/2009 and currently in 2020, all parties including the government (public sector), private sector, non-governmental organisation and public must unite and play an active role in the development of the economic sector.  

The full Dialog SME Sarawak can be viewed at Bank’s official YouTube channel – Agrobank TV and official Facebook page.