“Political will needed to address the long-term needs of food security,” says Ramasamy
A FORMER DAP leader has questioned why the government and the Agriculture and Food Security Ministry were caught flat-footed on the matter of food security, saying the country, given its dependence on cash crops, had never took a serious view of the matter.
Prof P. Ramasamy said in this case, agriculture was simply conceived as plantation agriculture, and like in the colonial period, prime land was not accorded for food production but for plantation agriculture.
“Is it surprising that the country is experiencing food shortage, especially rice? Is the local rice shortage an outcome of global climatic changes or something that is man-made?” he said in a statement today (Sept 29).
The former Perai assemblyman went on to note that in the past – as well as in the present – apart from global climatic conditions and the ongoing war in Ukraine, local factors had a more decisive role in the reduction of rice production.
“Over the years, rice production has decreased in the country. Land allocated for rice cultivation has decreased due to commercialisation and urbanisation.
“Illegally, lands meant for rice production have been sub-divided for other uses. There is clear a lack of national policy in terms of preventing the conversion of lands meant for rice cultivation for other purposes.”
Ramasamy, who is also the former Penang deputy chief minister, also pointed out that the migration of youths to urban areas in search of employment has meant rice cultivation has become less attractive to the younger generation.
“It is sad despite the abundance of land in the country, rice production meets only 70% of the needs of the country. Malaysia imports 30% of rice from countries like India, Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam. Even India is not keen to export given the local needs.
“The country doesn’t even have 20% reserve of rice stockpile to meet emergency needs. There is an acute rice shortage in the country; in other words, there is a food crisis.”
Agriculture and Food Security Ministry, he added, had no answers except to say that the shortage is temporary, among others.
“Rice supplies are being reduced to wholesale and retail markets. Restrictions are imposed on how much consumers can buy,” he elaborated.
“Rice importation is under the control of Bernas, a private company. It has raised the price of imported rice by 30% recently amidst the food crisis.
“While the sale of local rice is controlled item, there are no controls on the sale of imported rice. This has given rise to the speculation that the reduction in the supply of local rice is being manipulated by interested parties to make handsome profits by increasing the sale of imported rice.
“The government might subsidise the sale of imported rice to certain government agencies, but ordinary people without access to local rice might have to pay a high price.”
Citing recent advice from Economy Minister Rafizi Ramli against eating out to mitigate the food crisis in the country, Ramasamy reckoned that such an “inappropriate advice” does not speak well for the Madani government in managing the food crisis.
“Some irresponsible parties in the country can blame the planet for for the food crisis, but the fact remains that the governments must be held accountable and responsible for the present mess,” he stressed.
“The government can have all the glorious food programmes for the masses, but without the adequate supply of rice, they will remain as failed programmes.”
Rafizi’s comment on eating out came as the country faces a hike in the price of rice following a market shortage of the staple food.
The shortage was triggered after national padi firm Bernas had increased the price of imported white rice by 36% on Sept 1, leading to a surge in demand for the cheaper local white rice.
The government subsequently imposed a limit of 10 bags for 10kg of the staple, amounting to a total of 100kg per customer.
Elaborating, Ramasamy said it is not a question of adjusting the supply to the needs of the demand as the problem is with the supply that cannot meet the growing demands.
“The present food crisis should be used as lesson by the government to embark on a more comprehensive food security policy in the future,” he remarked. – Sept 29, 2023