- Advertisement -

Agricultural expert scoffs at idea of replacing rice with tapioca

It's proof of the government's failure to tackle the rice supply crisis, says a former government adviser on agriculture.

3 minute read

An agricultural expert has dismissed the proposal to produce tapioca as an alternative to rice to overcome the current rice supply problem, saying it only proves the failure of the authorities.

Prof Fatimah Arshad, a former member of the National Agricultural Advisory Council, said the rice supply problem must be solved first.

"It's not that there is no rice in Malaysia, but it is hidden and mixed (with imported rice) so that the manufacturers can make a big profit. So while they are raking in profits, people are supposed to eat tapioca?" she told MalaysiaNow.

Former PKR MP and Dewan Rakyat speaker Johari Abdul was recently heavily criticised for proposing to introduce tapioca, a starch derived from the cassava root, as an alternative to rice as a staple food.

Johari said that tapioca is not only rich in carbohydrates, but also healthier due to its low sugar content.

His proposal was followed by a flood of condemnation on social media in the form of sarcastic comments and memes.

Fatimah Arshad
Fatimah Arshad

Fatimah said that tapioca has a higher glycaemic index compared to rice.

The glycaemic index ranks carbohydrate-containing foods to show how quickly each food affects blood sugar levels when eaten on its own.

In addition, Fatimah says, tapioca also has side effects such as bloating.

A popular health advocacy Facebook page, Public Health Malaysia, explained that while tapioca is useful for strengthening bones and teeth, excessive consumption can lead to weight gain and the risk of cyanide poisoning.

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

Following India's ban on rice exports, which led to a surge in the price of imported rice, cheaper local white rice became scarce.

Malaysia covers around 60% of its rice consumption domestically.

One solution proposed by the Anwar Ibrahim government is the introduction of "Madani rice" to replace all rice varieties on the market.

The proposal is aimed at curbing  manufacturers from mixing rice varieties and selling them as imported rice in order to get a higher profit margin.

However, Fatimah said the problem of rice supply has nothing to do with the variety, but is due to the manufacturers and Padi Beras Nasional Berhad (Bernas), the company controlled by tycoon Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, which has a monopoly on rice import.

"The National Rice and Padi Board, founded in 1971, which later became Bernas, has become such a 'giant' that the government is afraid to take action," she said.

Fatimah said it was not difficult to question the rationale behind Johari's proposal.

"Ask the Datuks if they want to eat boiled tapioca three times a day."

Anis Anwar Suhaimi
Anis Anwar Suhaimi

Analyst Anis Anwar Suhaimi said it does not make sense to replace a society's staple food.

"The importance of rice in our society is reflected in the Malay proverb that refers to a person's source of income as a 'rice bowl'. This shows how rice is synonymous with livelihood," said Anis, lead researcher at O2 Research Malaysia.

Anis added that statements like Johari's show how far removed government leaders are from reality and the people's problems.