Give Kedah padi farmers more control, say experts

PETALING JAYA: Giving Kedah’s padi farmers more control over their seeds, fertiliser and greater freedom to sell their own harvests will increase their incomes without having to turn their fields into factories.

These will be more effective in improving the livelihoods of farmers than a controversial plan by Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor, say agricultural experts.

In a recent interview with The Star, Muhammad Sanusi said he wanted to turn 20% of all padi land in Kedah into industrial zones, purportedly in a bid to increase the state’s coffers and lift its residents out of poverty.

Experts, however, say the Mentri Besar should instead demand that the Federal Government end monopolies in seed and fertiliser supplies.

The farmers now have to buy seeds and fertiliser from a handful of government-approved suppliers.

“This prevents farmers from using quality seeds that they have saved or sourcing for fertiliser at more competitive prices,” said rice farming expert Nur Fitri Amir Mohammad.

The secretary of PeSAWAH, a rice farmers’ civil group, said greater liberalisation of the rice farming industry would encourage innovation and the creation of niche products and new income.“There are many rice-based downstream activities like organic rice, fragrant rice or rice-based livestock feed,” he said.

“But they are unable to get into these because of restrictions,” said Nur Fitri Amir, who is also coordinator of the Food Security and Sovereignty Forum, a group of experts and scholars working on agricultural reform.

Another agricultural expert, Dr Fatimah Mohamed Arshad, of Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) said farmers should also be allowed to sell their harvests directly to consumers.

“By having small mills at their farms, they can process their harvests and sell them directly to consumers, encouraging greater entrepreneurship and competition,” said Fatimah, who is part of UPM’s Institute of Tropical Agriculture and Food Security.

In Japan, she said rice farms are in cities and farmers sell directly to consumers, she added.

Nur Fitri Amir said instead of building industrial zones, the Mentri Besar should demand that Kedah be given the freedom to chart its own agricultural policies.

He said the state should also demand more funds for upgrading infrastructure such as irrigation and roads.

In Kedah, only 18m out of every hectare of padi land is irrigated, compared to 43m per ha in Selangor.

“This is the why yields per hectare in Selangor’s farms are higher,” added Nur Fitri Amir.

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