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Netizens roast PKR's Johari for telling Malaysians to ditch rice for tapioca

Ex: The Dewan Rakyat speaker reaps a barrage of criticism and jokes for his remarks, many telling him to lead by example and switch to tapioca.

4 minute read
Dewan Rakyat Speaker Johari Abdul.
Dewan Rakyat Speaker Johari Abdul.

A storm is brewing on social media as netizens react with shock and humour to Dewan Rakyat speaker Johari Abdul's suggestion that Malaysians could consider replacing rice with tapioca, a starch derived from the cassava root, as an alternative staple diet given the current nationwide rice shortage.

The PKR politician said tapioca, which was last used as a staple food during the Japanese occupation of Malaya in World War II due to rice shortages, is also a good source of carbohydrates.

"Why do we eat rice? We eat rice to get carbohydrates.

"What is the purpose of eating rice? To get carbohydrates. I have spoken to several MPs from Sarawak. Many Sarawak MPs grow cassava.

"People in Sarawak eat tapioca... If we can introduce it as an additional food to replace rice, we should definitely do it... I understand that it is a big success in Sarawak," he told reporters yesterday at the Jualan Termurah Madani event in Sungai Petani, the constituency he once represented for PKR.

Johari said Malaysia must have the courage to venture into tapioca production, adding that tapioca was better than rice due to its lower sugar content and can be the solution to the country's heavy dependence on food imports.

This was followed by a flood of comments on social media.

Among them is from well-known political influencer Ratu Naga, who nicknamed Johari "Jo Ubi".

"Why is it so difficult to get rice when Malaysia produces 60% of domestic rice? Why is it so difficult to find rice in Malaysia?

"So if we can replace rice with tapioca, can we also replace stupid leaders with smart ones?" she asked in a video poking fun at Johari, who was appointed Dewan Rakyat speaker after the 2022 general election.

It is a tone widely reflected in many comments on social media calling on government leaders and their supporters to make tapioca their staple food.

"If possible, all MPs and state councillors should eat tapioca so that the rice gets to the people who need it," wrote Abd Rahim.

"It used to be kangkung (water spinach)... that's still okay. Now we are told to eat tapioca. To hell with this government," read another comment, recalling former prime minister Najib Razak's statement in 2014 that sparked a wave of condemnation and memes online after he denied claims of rising prices and said that some products like water spinach had become cheaper.

TikToker Na'im Brundage also challenged Johari to survive on a tapioca diet for a year.

"Do you think this is the era of Japanese occupation?"

Mohamad Sabu's idea

Johari's suggestion echoed another made last year by Mohamad Sabu, the minister responsible for food security.

At the Ministerial Forum on National Food Security in July last year, the Amanah president told his audience how he had stopped for meals while travelling in Terengganu. (Click for video)

Agriculture and Food Security Mohamad Sabu.
Agriculture and Food Security Mohamad Sabu.

"When we arrived in Rusila, we stopped for noodles. Then we travelled on to Paka, where we got a burger. After that I went to a ceramah. After the ceramah, my friend said: 'Bang Mat, we haven't eaten yet'.

"'What about the noodles and the burger from earlier?

"'But that's not rice'. So we ended up eating rice."

Mohamad said the health ministry should launch a campaign to switch to alternatives to rice in the event of a rice shortage.

Malaysia has been facing a shortage of local white rice since last year, blamed not only on climate change and the rising cost of padi seeds, but also on hoarding and price manipulation by middlemen and cartels.

This was made worse by India's decision to ban the export of regular white rice to protect its domestic supply.

Some countries that rely on rice imports from India, such as Singapore, had made prior arrangements, with agreements for an exemption from New Delhi to avoid disruption in rice supply.

Local white rice had largely disappeared from the shelves after Padiberas Nasional (Bernas), a company owned by tycoon Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, which has a monopoly on rice imports, hiked the retail price of imported rice by 36% in September last year, leading to a surge in demand for the cheaper local rice.

It is said that local white rice, a controlled food whose price is capped at RM26 per 10kg, can only meet 60% to 70% of domestic demand.

In response to Johari's latest proposal, some social media users pointed out that tapioca is more expensive than rice.

"If we run out of tapioca later, we will also import tapioca," quipped Azlan Suhaizat Mohamed Pitchay.

Azrul Hisyam linked Johari's suggestion to his performance as a speaker.

"I thought it was only funny in Parliament, but it's just as funny outside."

Ahmad Nusi meanwhile took a veiled jibe at Economy Minister Rafizi Ramli, often mocked by many as the "formula man".

"It's not an idea, he (Johari) is just offering a formula, like his friends," he wrote.

One user asked if tapioca would be served instead of rice at the upcoming Hari Raya open houses of ruling politicians.

Another asked if the zakat fitrah, the alms Muslims pay during Ramadan, which is based on the price of a country's staple food, will soon be based on the price of tapioca.