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Sarawak farmers struggle to turn out a crop amid surging production costs

The main problem is the spike in the price of fertiliser, although costs have risen across the board.

Nur Shazreena Ali
3 minute read
A farmer in Sarawak stands beside his motorcycle, gazing out at the fields stretching out before him.
A farmer in Sarawak stands beside his motorcycle, gazing out at the fields stretching out before him.

While consumers throughout the country are complaining of an increase in prices, further up the supply chain, farmers are also feeling the pinch as they struggle to produce enough to meet market demand while juggling their own livelihoods at the same time.

In Sarawak, the main problem for farmers is the rising price of fertiliser – a key component in ensuring, as far as they can, a successful crop.

Compounding their problems are the lingering effects of the financial losses suffered throughout the past two years, when Covid-19 restrictions disrupted their harvesting schedules and laid waste to much of their crops.

Now, with the country easing its way towards the endemic phase of Covid-19, the farmers are gearing up once again for a new harvest season.

But they fear that the rising cost of production will outweigh what little returns they get.

“The price of goods and fertiliser has increased sharply,” Tiong, a vegetable farmer from Kampung Keranji in Bau, told MalaysiaNow.

“It used to be RM105 for 50kg. Now it’s RM225.”

There is not much they can do about this as the wholesalers themselves are facing similar financial constraints.

And with fewer and fewer farmers able to keep pace with the rising production costs, the wholesalers have little choice but to raise their prices as well.

Using less fertiliser is one option for the farmers but this has a negative effect on the quality of crops.

They are also up against other factors that are out of their control, such as the weather.

“It’s so hot now that the vegetables ripen more quickly,” Tiong said. “Sometimes I have to throw away fruit because it gets damaged.”

For the farmers, there is no solution in sight to their problems. The costs have already been incurred, and by hook or by crook, they need to pay their harvest bills.

“Farmers like us can only earn enough to feed our families,” Tiong said.

“We have to fight to put food on our tables.”

Landan Usop from Kampung Entanggor in Sebuyau shares many of the same woes.

On her small farm, she grows chillies, lemon trees, lemongrass, turmeric, potato leaves and long beans. She also grows other crops in the village such as sweet potatoes.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, she said she had been forced to cut her fertiliser use by half.

“Fertiliser used to cost RM17,” she said, “but now it costs RM22.

“My costs are constantly rising. I feel burdened whenever I need to buy more fertiliser.”

Even after she manages a harvest, there’s no guarantee that she will be able to sell it.

She said wholesalers in the city used to buy her vegetables but now have begun to buy less.

“They used to buy a lot from me, but since the cost has gone up, it’s difficult,” she said.

For Uncle Mat, a padi farmer from Lundu, the problem is across the board.

“The prices of all commodities are rising,” he said.

“Farmers are really struggling and things are only getting worse.”

Like Tiong and Landan, Mat is trying to stretch his supply of fertiliser as far as it will go. But despite his best efforts, the prospects are not good.

“If I don’t use fertiliser, it will affect the quality of my crops,” he said.

“Over the past year alone, the cost of fertiliser and pesticides multiplied by 30 to 40%.”

In Sarawak, about 70% of farmers live in rural areas and are heavily dependent on agriculture.

Last year, the agriculture sector contributed RM16.5 billion or 12.1% to the state’s economy.