KOTA KINABALU: Putrajaya must put its money where its mouth is over talk of making Sabah and Sarawak the rice bowls for the nation, says a political economist.
Sabah Universiti Teknologi senior lecturer Dr Firdausi Suffian said the proposal by Agriculture and Food Security Minister Datuk Seri Mohamad Sabu over increasing rice production in both states had been mooted by previous governments.
In the case of Sabah, he said, it was a long overdue plan to make the state a rice bowl.
"The plan to raise Sabah’s rice self-sufficiency level (SSL) to 60% was made in the National Agricultural Plan III under the 10th and 11th Malaysia Plans.
"But it never materialised and the state’s rice SSL still remains low.
"If the Federal Government is serious about this, a significant budget must be allocated and the state Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Industry Ministry must be empowered to manage and coordinate this effort," Firdausi said on Saturday (Sept 30).
Mohamad had on Friday (Sept 29) said the government was looking to increase rice production by developing more padi fields in Sabah and Sarawak.
The Minister said the Federal Government had been discussing the matter with the Sabah government to be carried out in the near future.
He added this was part of the long-term plan to ensure sufficient and balanced supply throughout the country to overcome shortages.
The main issue faced in Sabah, he said, was related to irrigation and it would cost billions of ringgit to overcome.
"But for (the sake of) food security, I feel we need to spend (this sum)," he said, adding that there was about 20,234ha of land in Sabah earmarked for growing paddy.
Firdausi said merely providing subsidies was not enough.
"Infrastructure and irrigation are crucial especially for the Kota Belud district which is considered the rice bowl of Sabah, and the best way to show their support for Sabah is the revival of the Sabah Paddy Board," he said.
He added having a plan is important but implementation is key.
"Economic success does not merely lie in vision but execution.
"The 12MP mid-term review has identified civil servants as key players for all policies to be implemented.
"So, in essence civil servants or policy makers must ensure they carry out the plan," Firdausi said.
He added that the upcoming national budget should allocate specific funds for Sabah to expand its rice production.
This, he said, should take into account the ecosystem that enables the expansion of the rice production capacity such as infrastructure, human resource and technology, among others.