Govt’s decision on Bernas’ extension considers impacts on Malaysia’s food chain

The concession will ensure all aspects across the supply chain will be in good hands, including improving on the SSL for paddy

by SHAHEERA AZNAM SHAH/ pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

THE government’s decision to retain Padiberas Nasional Bhd (Bernas) as the sole concessionaire in managing Malaysia’s rice supply considers the risk to the food chain, should the concession be passed on to an unfitted entity.

Agriculture and Food Industries Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ronald Kiandee (picture; second from left) said extending Bernas’ concession will ensure that all aspects across the supply chain will be in good hands which will improve the country’s self-sufficiency level (SSL) for paddy.

“The decision was made according to all aspects of paddy farming, including the livelihood of Malaysian farmers, our current level of the stockpile, the SSL and the industry as a whole.

“Thus, maintaining the single gatekeeper mechanism (SGM) and Bernas is the best way to proceed,” he said at the National Farmers, Livestock Breeders and Fishermen Day celebration in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

In a response to a question during a Parliament session on Tuesday, Ronald said Bernas’ concession as the single gatekeeper for rice imports will be extended for an undecided duration.

He said in the reply that the government is currently finalising the terms and conditions of the extension agreement, adding that Bernas will have to fulfil more social obligations in addition to the terms stated in the previous contract.

Bernas — through the SGM — was appointed as the guardian for the country’s rice management to prevent a food crisis and be the buffer in the event of it.

The local rice industry has been solely managed through the SGM for the past four decades to prevent excessive profiteering and ensure constant supplies.

The government extended Bernas’ concession in 2011 to manage the country’s rice supply for 10 years. The current concession will end in January next year.

Separately, Ronald said the National Agro-Food Policy (NAFP) 2.0, which is currently being fine-tuned by the ministry, will include ramping up the utilisation of modern technology and encouraging automation, as well as mechanisation adoption.

“As the continuation of the current policy, NAFP 2.0 will be focusing on transforming the agricultural sector into a modern industry that uses advanced technologies with the application of mechanisation and automation.

“Through our agencies, the government has been working with banks to monitor and facilitate loans regarding these implementations, so that our industry does not get held back by financing,” he said.

Ronald added that the utilisation of advanced technology could increase youth participation in the country’s rice farming activities.

In easing the impact of the pandemic, the government has allocated some funds for the agricultural industry through the economic stimulus package, the Prihatin Rakyat economic stimulus package and the National Economic Recovery Plan.

Under Prihatin, RM190 million has been provisioned for the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industries to be channelled to its agencies, including the Farmers’ Organisation Authority (FOA), which has received a total of RM62 million.

FOA said the allocation will be utilised for the upgrading of the machinery under the authorities which will allow the machines’ lifespan to expand by three to five years and benefit about 65,000 paddy farmers in the country.