PUTRAJAYA: Padi farmers must be brought out of poverty as a way to ensure food security, says Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
The Prime Minister said farmers were stuck in poverty and heavily relied on government subsidies.
Dr Mahathir said currently the government had allocated RM1.8bil in subsidies annually for about 200,000 rice farmers.
This, he said, was too costly.
Dr Mahathir said holdings of farmers were too small to produce returns, adding that they were also not efficient in utilising their land.
“One acre of land which can produce eight tonnes (in padi yield) only produces four tonnes.
“We need to attend to this by improving the methods of planting and also the way farmers apply fertilisers and such,” he said at a press conference after chairing the Economic Action Council yesterday.
Dr Mahathir said the government could not force farmers to solely plant rice but they should be encouraged to plant other crops that could yield good returns, especially those that would be harvested three to four times a year.
“In Kedah, for example, rice can be planted twice but in other areas it is only done once a year.
“So we need to look at this as a whole, as a reason for poverty among farmers and how to overcome it,” the Prime Minister said.
“At the same time we must also look after food security. That has got to be attended to.”
Dr Mahathir said consumers should not be burdened with rising cost in order to “enrich farmers”.
Currently, the government imports RM60bil worth of food per year, and wants to bring that cost down by half.
Dr Mahathir said farmers could earn more through planting other crops, such as fruits and vegetables.
Citing his home state, Dr Mahathir said farmers in Kedah were producing harum manis (a variety of mango), melons and pineapples that gave them better returns.
“Maybe they should allocate a certain part of their land to grow other crops,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dr Mahathir also said that the government was still gathering data on the proposed fuel subsidy.
The new-targeted fuel subsidy mechanism is expected to be rolled out in July.
“We have only come to the stage of getting data, no real decision has been made,” he said.
Asked if the mechanism will still be introduced in July, Dr Mahathir said: “I think July (or) later.”
In April, Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said the government was looking into two methods of implementing the programme.
It is either through crediting an amount into the bank accounts of recipients or introducing a petrol card.
The plan to move from blanket fuel subsidy to targeted subsidies was announced by Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng in Budget 2019.