Govt eyes new paddy fields in Sabah, Sarawak

By AFIQ AZIZ / Pic By MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

The Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry (MoA) is exploring land plots in Sabah and Sarawak to be developed into new paddy fields, as part of its plan to ensure the country’s continuous supply of rice.

Minister Datuk Salahuddin Ayub said agriculture ministers from both states have been notified of the plan.

“We want to do large-scale projects and leverage on the size of the land, while maintaining and modernising the current production in Peninsular Malaysia.

“It may be a long-or medium-term plan, but the discussion must begin now,” he said at the MoA media engagement programme in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

In June, Universiti Putra Malaysia published a report that the food import bill, which includes rice, reached RM45.4 billion in 2015. It outshined exports at RM27 billion, leaving a deficit of over RM18 billion.

According to the report, developing countries like Malaysia would suffer a food security crisis in the long run if such a situation is overlooked.

In 2016, Malaysia imported RM1.57 billion of rice, slightly lower than the RM2.08 billion in the previous year.

Malaysia imports most of its rice from Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan and India, while the country’s main meat resources come from New Zealand, Australia and India. Mutton, beef, fruits and dairy milk are among the products that are short in supply.

The agricultural trade in Malaysia has seen an uptrend deficit of 22% from RM13.9 billion in 2011 to RM17 billion in 2014. In 2014, the country’s import stood at RM42.6 billion in 2014, 53% higher compared to RM34.4 billion in 2011.

Exports, however, only increased by 25% from RM20.5 billion to RM25.6 billion for the same period.

“Our dependency on imports is very worrying. We need to ensure we take cautious steps in planning our journey after this,” the minister said.

Apart from rice supply, Salahuddin said the ministry is also studying the framework of the new feedlot project to alleviate the shortage of meat.

He assures that the second dairy programme will not fail like the previous National Feedlot Corp (NFC) project.

“We are conducting a new study and waiting for the full report, slated to conclude by the end of September.

“We need to ensure it will not repeat the same mistakes as NFC,” he said.

Salahuddin added that the project would cater to 30% of the local market consumption.

He said the ministry aims to engage various players including international companies who are interested.

In terms of location, the ministry is open to discuss with any state government.

“We will also consider using MoA land plots,” he said.

Last year, Malaysia produced about 52,000 tonnes of beef worth RM169 million. The country imports about 191,000 tonnes of beef worth RM1.14 billion annually to meet local demand.