A worrying trend shows that the majority of Malaysian farmers are in the ageing population
by AZALEA AZUAR / pic by BERNAMA
MALAYSIA needs to make the agriculture sector more attractive among youths in order to reduce reliance on foreign workers and to safeguard the nation’s food security.
Statistics from the Muda Agricultural Development Authority revealed that the average age of paddy farmers in Malaysia is 60 years, while only 15% of the Farmers Organisation Authority are below 40 years old.
This has shown a worrying trend that the majority of Malaysian farmers are in the ageing population.
Head of Sustainable Agriculture and Food Research Unit Prof Dr Shri Dewi Applanaidu stated that we are still dependent on foreign workers in the agriculture sector.
“According to a study done by the Khazanah Research Institute, there are more than 30% of foreign workers in the agriculture sector, where this sector has the largest share of foreign workers.
“Currently, our local food production is increasing at a slow and stagnant rate, and one of the ways to speed up the process is to get more young farmers onboard instead of relying on migrants,” she said in a webinar entitled “Food Security — Resilience in The Face of Uncertainty” yesterday.
The young generation who are naturally tech-savvy would also increase the digital adoption rate in the agricultural sector which is low right now.
Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry Senior Principal Assistant Secretary, Policy and Strategic Planning division Dr Perumal Ponnusamy said some of the countries which are struggling with financial crisis immediately acted on reducing their migrant workers.
“But my take is that after many years of encouragement, a lot of companies still refuse to go on technology and still prefer labour intensive, and when they prefer labour intensive in terms of capping the costs, the intention to migrate to technology has been left behind,” he said.
Dr Perumal also mentioned that they are trying to implement Industrial Revolution 4.0 (IR4.0) technologies which will reduce the labour-intensive current practice, and in turn benefit the company companies or the food producers in the long run.
Famox Plantation (M) Sdn Bhd founder and director Ramana K Naidu said if industry players try to make agriculture jobs more comfortable with attractive pay and enable the use of high-technology, youngsters would consider it.
“We are making agriculture sexier. Now, we are using a tractor with an air-conditioner so they can put some music inside, and then they can plough the land and everything,” he said.
Ramana also recommended turning a side-income career like farming into a fulltime job.
“Last time people used drones to take pictures. And then you know they put it as a hobby, right now you can do your job, and you can see your hobby as well. So that’s when you do these kinds of things, these youngsters get attracted and then they know that food is very important,” Ramana explained.
This module that he practices in his business would eventually be successful in attracting young agropreneurs. Though, he noted that there is no perfect module on this matter.
“There’s no best (module), that’s always better. So that’s why we have to mingle with the people who have experience, talk to them, take the experience, don’t see farming as dirty, or don’t see that as a job that is not professional,” he added.
School of Economics, Finance and Banking, Universiti Utara Malaysia Prof Russayani Ismail said the use of technology and farming practices is the way forward to ensure a sustainable food production.
“Among those are sustained capacity building for research and extension in agriculture, food and related discipline. Encourage research in universities to be more adaptive to problem solving issues, and commodity crops based on environmentally friendly. Turning research output into practice to farmers and communities,” she explained.
Russayani also urged the young generation should be trained for modern farming such as hydroponics and fertigation.