Daim: The future of Malaysia is in agriculture

The constant demand for food makes agriculture a viable solution to Malaysia’s economic woes, says the govt’s principal advisor

by ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN/ pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

MAKING agriculture profitable and attractive to young people is key to reducing the country’s import bill, lifting millions out of unemployment and boosting federal revenue, former two-time Finance Minister Tun Dr Daim Zainuddin (picture; left) said.

The government’s principal advisor last Friday stated that the constant demand for food makes agriculture a viable solution to Malaysia’s economic woes.

Daim, who was the chairman of the Council of Eminent Persons, is promoting the revival of the farming industry as the sector plays a crucial role in the development of the nation going forward.

“If we start planting the right thing, we can reduce our import. Not only that, we can also increase our exports, create employment and increase income. That is what is important.

“Once we do this, locals can get fresh produce at a lower price. If there is excess, we can export and bring in foreign money. That is what we are trying to do,” he said in Setia Alam after the launch of the “mykampung” campaign to promote local agricultural products at the Tokyo Olympics 2020.

“At the moment, China is buying our durians, which we can promote to India, too. If they like it, that is a market of over a billion people. Then, we can go on and produce mangoes and jackfruits. In the West, they have started using jackfruits as an alternative for beef.

“You have to identify the type of vegetables or fruits you want to produce. Identify the right product, the right market and do it,” Daim said.

Concerns over food security have been on the rise as climate change, political uprisings and economic instability continue to pose major threats to nations the world over.

Malaysia currently imports over RM51 billion worth of food annually.

Despite having vast areas of arable land, over two-thirds of the country’s eight million hectares (ha) of agriculture land are planted with oil palm, while another 1.2 million ha are planted with rubber.

Since the start of last year, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has called for an all-out reform of the agriculture sector, including a change to the land management scheme under state agency Federal Land Development Authority.

The current model, he said, prevents rural farmers from harvesting greater yields and income as the land sizes owned are too small.

Dr Mahathir has urged farmers to expand their cultivation areas by pooling their lands and diversifying their crops.

The government via Felcra Bhd has also recently signed an agreement with Qatar’s Baladna Food Industries WLL to construct Malaysia’s largest dairy farm, set for completion within two years.

The deal is expected to double the country’s annual milk production by 50 million litres.

Public companies such as palm oil producer FGV Holdings Bhd recently announced plans to reposition itself as a major player in the agriculture and food industries.

Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Salahuddin Ayub in November said the country’s food import bill had risen by an average 6.5% per year from RM30 billion in 2010 to RM50 billion in 2018. Most of the food came from China, India, Thailand, Indonesia and New Zealand.

The highest amount of import in 2018 were for cereals at RM7.1 billion, followed by coffee, cocoa, tea and spices worth RM7 billion, while feedstock at RM5.9 billion.

High amounts of vegetables (RM4.6 billion), fish and crustaceans (RM4.1 billion), fruits (RM3.9 billion), meat (RM3.9 billion), sugar (RM3.8 billion) and dairy products (RM3.8 billion) were also brought in.

As of August last year, Malaysia’s spending on food imports amounted to RM34.2 billion. The country’s biggest import at the time were coffee, cocoa, tea and spices totalling RM4.5 billion.