KUALA LUMPUR: The government must deliver on its promise to lower food prices so that Malaysians can see their cost of living being reduced, says Tun Daim Zainuddin.
He stressed that there was no time for excuses.
Reiterating his proposal of creating income through modernising agriculture, he said this was the way forward to rejuvenate the country’s growth, cut poverty, as well as reduce food costs and dependency on imported goods.
The people, added Daim, were unhappy with the cost of living and although Pakatan Harapan had been the government for almost two years, the problem had yet to be solved.
“The expectation was very high but you can see that in the last couple of months, people are frustrated that things don’t seem to be moving.
“The signal is coming from the people and the government must not ignore this.
“What we want most importantly is to have a healthy life, as well as for productivity and income to go up, and for the cost of living to go down, ” he said at the 29th Tunku Abdul Rahman Lecture organised by the Malaysian Institute of Management here yesterday.
Daim said there was no serious allocation for the agriculture sector in Budget 2020.
Modern precision agriculture via the application of information and communications technology, he said, would improve Malaysia’s self-sustainability level, food security and food safety.
“Automation and robotics mean that less labour is required and fewer people forced into triple D jobs – dirty, dangerous and difficult.
“Farming then becomes a high quality occupation; one that generates a good steady income and does not require hours of hard labour in the fields, ” he said.
By focusing on smallholders and farmers, Malaysia, said Daim, could work towards poverty alleviation and eradication.
“We must identify ways to improve their income – whether through the commercialisation of waste products, downstream activities, reduced production costs or the diversification of crops.
“Besides the farmers themselves, a modernised agriculture sector will create jobs along the supply chain, ” he said, citing researchers, analysts, drone manufacturers and food technicians as among the examples of jobs.
He said while the government intended to make the right decisions, more needed to be done such as ensuring the removal of obstacles facing farmers such as the lack of access to land and financing.
“It’s very difficult to get land because it’s a state matter. Acres of idle land are just being wasted. I’ve written to the state governments asking them to give land.
“Some were very encouraging and replied ‘yes’ while some didn’t even reply. Yet during the election, they came begging for votes, ” he said.
His suggestion was for the government to create a special agency to address these issues to ensure that land and a special fund to help farmers would be easily available.
“I’m confident that if the government does this, then enough farmers will want to go into this sector and we’ll be able to reduce our food costs and there will be excess to export.
“We will be able to reduce our food bill by 30% in three years, ” said Daim, pointing out that the total agro-food import bill for 2018 stood at over RM52bil.