THE agriculture sector, especially the food production sub-sector, has contributed positively to the country’s GDP during the Covid-19 pandemic, growing by 0.4% in the first quarter of 2021. This growth was supported by better performance in other agricultural sub-sectors (other than palm oil) at 5.7% and livestock, which rose to 3.5%.
In the second quarter of 2021, the other agriculture and livestock sub-sectors expanded further at 6% and 6.3% respectively.
This indicates that the food production sector has potential to contribute to the economy even during difficult times.
Looking ahead, and starting from Budget 2022, the government should focus on technological and entrepreneurship development in this sector to ensure a sufficient supply of quality and safe food at affordable prices to meet the needs of our country’s growing population and rising per capita income as well as dietary changes.
Innovation and investments in agriculture systems technology, and capacity building will play an important role in fostering food-farming productivity.
The application of agricultural systems technology, which is still quite low in Malaysia, needs to be intensified. It also needs to be supported by research and development in the physical sciences, engineering, and computer sciences; development of agricultural devices, sensors, and systems; assessment on how to employ the technologies economically and with minimal disruption to existing practices; and teaching farmers how to use new technologies.
In terms of capacity building, other universities could offer courses in agricultural systems technology to supplement the academic programmes in smart farming and agricultural engineering that are currently being offered by Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM).
Graduates from these programmes can find rewarding careers in a variety of agricultural businesses. They can, for instance, use their knowledge to assist farmers who need guidance in adopting new technologies.
On their part, farmers would adopt the technologies and farm practices if the investment appears profitable, and they have the right education, information, and motivation. The government must also set clear policies to guide them.
Furthermore, incentives must be provided to support input and output pricing, which in turn will influence farmers’ investment decisions.
Entrepreneurs with potential in commercial food production and who are capable of adopting advanced technologies should be given incentives to participate in this sector.
In this aspect, agricultural education institutions should also train graduates to become entrepreneurs. This can be achieved through, for example, an entrepreneurship incubation programme.
Participants selected for this programme should be fresh graduates of agriculture and related disciplines who are inclined to entrepreneurship. The programme entails training the participants in the practices of agribusiness with emphasis on the application of business plans, management, and marketing methods.
They must be guided by experts in the university as well as from the private sector through a mentor-mentee programme. The relevant government agencies must also provide support. At the end of the programme, the successful participants should have set up their own companies.
Young people must also be encouraged to consider a career in agriculture. This could be done by introducing children in primary and secondary schools to the basic facts of food and agriculture in a way that holds their attention and interest.
Malaysia’s food production sector requires more investments in all fronts, including entrepreneurial human resource and technology. The government, together with universities, research centres and the private sector, must facilitate these investments.
PROF DATUK DR NASIR SHAMSUDIN , Faculty of Agriculture Universiti Putra Malaysia