Monday, November 29, 2021

Farmers struggle in the ‘rice bowl of Malaysia’

A lack of seed supply and rising prices are posing a challenge to farmers in the state of Kedah.

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For more than 14 years, Mohd Rafirdaus Abu Bakar has tended some 25 acres of padi in Kedah.

When planting season arrives, he and the other farmers head out to their fields to sow their seeds.

They are part of the “front line” responsible for producing one of Malaysia’s staple foods – rice.

Together with Perlis, Kedah, famously known as the “rice bowl of Malaysia”, produces some 43% of the country’s rice.

But problems with crops and harvests have taken a turn for the worse over the years, posing a challenge for about 55,000 farmers in the northern state.

One such problem is a lack of seed supply which plays havoc with the farmers’ padi planting schedule.

“Phase One, which is sowing season, should have taken place in October,” Rafirdaus told MalaysiaNow.

“But at that time, the seeds were still stuck at the laboratory level. They told us the labs did not have enough staff.”

Factories, too, play their own “games”, he added. “They produce rice seeds that we don’t want.”

The seeds sold at factories also exceed the price ceiling imposed by the government, he said.

While one sack of seeds should cost only RM28, the price is often increased to RM33 to RM40, adding to the burdern of farmers.

Rafirdaus also said that the factories which monopolise the production of padi seeds manufacture these according to their own wishes.

“They are still producing padi seeds from 20 years ago,” he said. “Their excuse is that the agriculture department does not want the same variety. But that is an old and lazy excuse.”

The situation sparked a rash of panic buying which caused prices to rise.

Making matters worse, farmers in Kedah are also struggling to deal with dry land that is not suitable for cultivating crops.

There is also the rising cost of agricultural equipment and tools such as fertiliser, pesticide and machinery.

Rafirdaus urged the government to investigate the possibility of leakage or parties who are taking advantage of the situation.

Rising production cost

Mohd Fuad Yaakob, chairman of the Malaysian Farmers Fraternity Organisation (Pesawah), said the price of agricultural input had risen by 50% to 70%.

“The government should increase subsidies as it controls the price of padi and rice, but the cost is all being borne by the farmers,” he told MalaysiaNow.

He said the late delivery of seeds also makes it difficult for farmers to plant their crops if the fields dry up due to the hot weather.

“Areas with infrastructure like dams are fortunate, but those without can only pray for rain,” he added.

On the provision for farmers in the 2022 budget, he said it was merely an old allocation that had been “polished” again, adding that there were no real additions for the group.

MalaysiaNow had reported that while Malaysia was recently ranked second after Singapore in Southeast Asia in terms of food security, structural problems still abound.

Experts who spoke to MalaysiaNow said the main issues relate to the padi and rice sector, citing the poor level of padi production despite the large budget allocated to the agriculture ministry from 2015 to 2017.

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