Safeguarding food security

Smart approach: A company official showing how drones are used for the Smart Padi Field programme in Permatang Nibong, Bukit Mertajam. — ZHAFARAN NASIB/The Star

BUKIT MERTAJAM: Despite Penang’s land scarcity and water issues, the government is doing everything within its power to help cushion the impact of the pandemic for the state’s padi farmers.

Agriculture and Food Industries Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ronald Kiandee said his ministry has launched the Large-Scale Smart Padi Field programme (Smart SBB) in Penang in an effort to safeguard food security while developing land for padi cultivation.

He said the smart public-private partnership aims to increase the productivity of rice and the income of farmers. A target of 150,000ha of padi fields across the country has been set.

“This programme is an initiative by the Agriculture and Food Industries Ministry (Mafi) to develop padi planting areas by optimising the use of land and to increase the efficiency of padi planting activity and its output.

“This will be beneficial in terms of increasing rice productivity and farmers’ incomes – with a target to implement the programme in an area spanning 150,000ha gradually,” he said.

Earlier, Ronald witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between five leading companies and the Federal Government to develop 942ha of padi fields in Penang.

A total of 420 farmers will be involved in the programme, which will be supervised by the state Integrated Agriculture Development Authority (IADA).

The public-private strategic partnership, which started in February last year, has successfully been implemented in Kedah, Kelantan, Pahang, Perlis, Perak, Selangor, Terengganu, Sabah and Sarawak with 19 companies participating in the programme.

A total of 24 outfits are now involved in the programme, including five companies in Penang. On the issue of food stock shortage such as wheat and other agricultural products, Ronald said the government will identify several alternatives such as importing these items into the country as a means to overcome the impending food crisis.

He said the rising costs of transportation and production, caused by foreign conflict, was affecting other countries as well.

“For sure we have taken several measures to reduce the impact on the people. For example, we have set the ceiling price of chicken at RM8.90 and the government has to subsidise production costs borne by the industry.

“The government is concerned about and is sensitive to the impact suffered by the people and has taken proactive action to ensure that the country’s food supply is sustainable.

“We are not alone in facing this situation but the only thing that differentiates us from the rest of the world is how we manage the impact of the rising costs and make sure that our food supply is sufficient,” he said.

When asked about the Indian government’s decision to stop exporting its wheat, Ronald said India did so in the interest of its country.

“To overcome wheat shortage, the government is looking at other alternative sources.”

He said although the country did not grow wheat, it has the capacity to grow corn and other crops to cope with the shortage of wheat.

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