AGRICULTURE was at one time the bedrock of the nation’s economy. Coffee was one of the earlier crops. When it eventually succumbed to disease, other crops took over, including rubber, which contributed immensely to the country’s well-being.
Then oil palm came, and with its better returns, it was quickly snapped up by plantations that were earlier growing rubber.
It is unfortunate that agriculture has been sidelined in recent years. Universiti Pertanian Malaysia (UPM), which used to be the pride of the agricultural fraternity, is now Universiti Putra Malaysia. Many of the nation’s top agriculturists (there are not many of them left) were troubled by that name change. The reason given was that agriculture was less sexy and fashionable.
What a load of misguided thinking! In the haste to pursue industrialisation, we have forgotten that the outputs of agriculture remain to this day key inputs in the economy. Many countries, including industrialised ones, still treat agriculture with much respect.
Rubber, as a raw material, has created many downstream businesses. We are, of course, aware of the importance of rubber gloves during the Covid-19 pandemic. Other rubber products which we export to the world include bridge bearings and dock fenders.
Food production remains a mainstay of the agriculture sector. As is evident from the pandemic, food is a recession-proof industry. Many professionals who lost their jobs turned to the food business for their livelihood.
But we need to catch up in food production. We are still importing too much, putting us at risk of food insecurity when global supply and demand is disrupted. This was evident at the early stage of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some big rice exporters to the country were already giving signs of raising prices.
We must muscle up the necessary investments in talent and technology to make agriculture great again. If required, we can also bring in foreign expertise at the early stage while we build our local talents.
International Rubber Research and Development