Low yields may lead to reliance on imported rice, says group

PETALING JAYA: Low production of padi in the country could increase the reliance on imported rice in the local market, where the low-income group will be the most affected with increased prices.

Pertubuhan Persaudaraan Pesawah Malaysia (Pesawah) secretary Nurfitri Amir Muhammad said the country’s rice self-sufficiency level was 65% in 2021.

“Local rice is sold at a controlled price of RM2.60 per kilo or RM26 per pack of 10kg,” he said.

“If the local rice product drops, usually it will be backed by an increase in imported white rice from Vietnam or Thailand. Imported rice has no ceiling price.

“With the increase in world rice prices recently, there is a possibility that imported rice will be sold at a higher price.

“So, we will have a situation of cheaper local rice and more expensive imported rice which poor people cannot afford to buy or the lower income group will need to spend more to buy imported rice,” Nurfitri said.

The researcher cum coordinator of the Malaysian Food Sovereignty Forum said to address the situation of low production of padi, there was an urgent need to upgrade infrastructure.

“This is especially involving irrigation system, in order to reduce water wastage where water released from the dam is not well utilised because of the poor condition of the irrigation infrastructures, as well as lack of facilities to store water from the river before it goes to the sea,” Nurfitri said.

He said farmers should be given the freedom to choose suitable and high-quality seed variety that was capable of withstanding the heat.

“This can be done by liberalising the supply of the padi seed industry and the subsidy for padi seed is given directly to farmers, not to the selected companies,” he said.

Khazanah Research Institute (KRI) research deputy director Dr Sarena Che Omar said the country had to rely on its rice stockpile for emergency short-term sudden cases when local padi production was affected.

“To address this, we should explore growing padi in different areas in Malaysia with varieties suitable for the local conditions.

“We could also breed climate resilient varieties like drought and flood tolerant varieties,” she said.

In KRI’s The Paddy and Rice Industry of Sabah and Sarawak report, it suggested that a potential area in the country to grow heirloom or speciality rice is in Sabah and Sarawak.

“It is believed that there are more than 500 unique padi varieties in both states,” it said.

“With numerous characteristics such as taste, colour and texture, these varieties are candidates for the artisanal, premium segment that can spur the competitiveness of Malaysia’s padi and rice industry.”

According to Agriculture and Food Industries Ministry’s Padi Industry Development Division director-general Azman Mahmood, as a long-term solution, the country could start exploring storing water in underground storage.

“Water from floods and excess water, we can store in underground storage such as in Japan,” he said.

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