KOTA KINABALU: Datuk Seri Dr Jeffrey Kitingan has called on Sabah to manage its own rice imports following the price hike on imported white rice.
The Deputy Chief Minister said the state’s unique geographical and social landscape warrants a more tailored approach to managing the essential commodity.
“The time has come for Sabah to break free from the constraints of a single-entity monopoly that has long shaped our local market.
“I believe this change could stimulate competition and lead to a more stable, and perhaps lower, rice prices for consumers in Sabah,” he added, in a statement here on Wednesday (Sept 6).
Kitingan, who is also state Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Industries Minister, made the proposal as households across Sabah are concerned about the price of imported white rice, which has increased by 36% (or RM0.85 per kg), from RM2,350 per tonne to RM3,200 beginning this month.
Kitingan said such a significant price hike not only disrupts the stability of household budgets but also jeopardises the wellbeing of low-income families.
He said Padiberas Nasional Bhd (Bernas), the nation’s sole rice importer, must be transparent in its pricing mechanisms and its stock levels.
“The public deserves to know how prices are determined and what measures are being taken to stabilise the market,” he said.
On top of that, he said Bernas should also release the additional stocks from its reserves as these are not just business assets.
“They are a public resource, especially in times of increased demand or market instability such as now.
“Of course all businesses want to generate profit but Bernas is dealing with an essential staple. Profit must not come at the expense of the basic needs of the people,” Kitingan added.
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According to the Agriculture and Food Industry Ministry, Sabah imported 290,000 tonnes of rice, including reserves, in 2021 but produced only 22,000 tonnes locally.
Kitingan said his ministry has been working to reduce Sabah’s dependency on imported rice through various projects under the Sabah Maju Jaya (SMJ) initiative, which aims to increase the state’s self-sufficiency level for rice production to at least 60% by 2030.
He said this would be achieved through the activation of the Sabah Rice and Paddy Board to assist farmers increase production through the rehabilitation of idle paddy fields and the upgrading of existing irrigation systems.
“These projects are expected to bring long-term benefits and will protect Sabah from global rice price volatility.
“I urge our citizens to be patient as we work steadfastly on these transformative agricultural projects.
“We’re not merely addressing the immediate crisis, we are building a more resilient, self-sufficient Sabah,” Kitingan added.