Lower food bill if govt takes agriculture seriously, says Daim

Modernising the agricultural sector will alleviate the country’s poverty rate that has not been addressed accordingly by the govt


MALAYSIA’S high food bill could be reduced if the government places the agriculture sector higher on its priority list.

Council of Eminent Persons former chairman Tun Dr Daim Zainuddin said despite the country’s intention to leverage on the agricultural sector under its Shared Prosperity Vision, there is inadequate funding allocated to the industry as evident in the Budget 2020.

“(The government) told the whole world that in the future, its shared prosperity plan will include the area of agriculture.

“Surprisingly, when the budget was announced, I saw hardly any money allocated for agriculture…There is…but not in a serious manner to address issues (in the sector).

“I’m confident that if the government is serious, there are enough farmers who would want to go into the sector and we are able to reduce the food cost and have enough excess for export,” he said at the 29th Tunku Abdul Rahman Lecture organised by Malaysian Institute of Management in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

Daim said modernising the local agricultural sector will alleviate the country’s poverty rate, which has not been addressed accordingly by the current government since it came to power.

“A matter that I’m not happy about is the cost of living. The government has been in power for almost two years, yet the issue has not been addressed. It is not difficult to solve this problem,” he said.

He added that since the rakyat is brave enough to reject the previous government, the expectations for the new administration is very high.

However, Daim said in the last couple of months, many have began to express their frustration as “things are not moving”.

“The signal has been given by the rakyat and we cannot ignore this thing,” he said.

Daim said while the government has the intention to make the right decision, there have been “roadblocks” that impede the farmers to advance due to the lack of funding and access to land plot.

“Land is a state matter and we have 100,000 acres (40,468.5ha) of idle land that are being wasted. I’ve written to the state governments asking them to distribute the land. “Some responded well and said ‘yes’. Some didn’t reply at all,” he said.

To move the agriculture sector further, Daim said the government should establish a special agency to coordinate and address issues that have been impeding the growth of the related industries.

“The problems now are no access to land and the difficulty to get financing. My suggestion to the government is to have a special agency just to address these issues.

“We have to make sure that land is available and a special fund could be set up to help the farmers,” he said.

Malaysia’s dependence on food purchases has risen over the years as the country already spent RM34.2 billion on food imports as of last August.

The country’s food import bill increased by an average of 6.5% annually from RM30 billion in 2010 to RM50 billion in 2018, with the bulk of the sustenance brought in from China, India, Thailand, Indonesia and New Zealand.

Malaysia’s status as a net importer of food products has also contributed to the country’s overall inflation. In October, the country’s inflation rose 1.1%, driven largely by food and beverages.

Commenting on Bandar Malaysia, Daim said the resumption of the project could worsen the property overhang in the country.

“My worry is the huge property overhang. (The government) has to be able to handle it…If they have buyers, then it is good,” Daim said.

“It is mentioned that (the overhang) could be more than RM20 billion, but you don’t develop if there is no buyer,” he said.

On Tuesday, the government agreed to restart the project with a gross development value of more than RM140 billion.