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Tuesday, July 5, 2011


We do need brainy but brave ideas to overcome rice shortage in the country. There has been lot of talking for many years to bring the equation to self-sufficiency and beyond but there is no dedicated policy and national will to make it happen.

The world rice production in 2001 was 585.6 million tonnes. By the year 2020 the world must produce 760 million tonnes of rice in order to keep up with population growth. Is it achieveable? One cannot help but not to be optimistic.

Food production is characterized by constant linear growth rates and that of population is geometrical. There are multitudes of factors affecting food production. Calamities brought about by climatic change can be disasterous.

Suppose China has to import bulk of its rice from the two producer countries in this region - Vietnam and Thailand, inadvertantly our rice supply from the two countries would be outcompeted and reduced. Could the country resort to other suppliers? The answer is bleak because neighbouring countries are also dependent on imports or they are just self-sufficient - Bangladesh, the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, and Japan. To buy from the world’s open market is very competitive, only 7% o the world’s supply is available.

At estimated per capita daily consumption of 367gm/day of rice and with a population of 26 million the country needs 9,542 tonnes of rice/day or 3.4 million tonnes per year. A reserve of about 1 million tonnes of rice to last for at least 3-4 months in case of emergency is also needed. Current production in West Malaysia is at 65% self-sufficient. Sarawak and Sabah figures are dismally lower!

Tunku Abdul Rahman launching MADA by opening the the Pedu Dam watergate.

The Muda Irrigation Scheme (MADA) in Kedah is our foremost rice bowl encompassing an area of 96,000ha and producing about 40% of our rice. The mega project was completed in the early seventies with funding from the World Bank. About 5,000 litres of water is required to produce 1kg of rice.

Of late there has been substantial losses of padi land in MADA due to lack of irrigation water, to industrialization and urbanization. A 1999 survey indicated that the number of family members and people engaged in farm work in MADA will decrease by 14% and 38% respectively by 2013.

Rice production involves harmonizing a complexity of factors. The production equation is basically a function of land, water, climate, technology, policy etc. To increase production means that we need to increase land area for rice and productivity per unit area.

Kemubu Irrigation Scheme of KADA, Kelantan, another major rice production centre in the country.

Land for padi growing is being out-competed for residential, industrial and infrastructural purposes. There is competing demands for water for agriculture, drinking, home, and industrial uses and are pressing against hydrologic limits.

Pollution of groundwater and surface water by herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals have adverse effects on the environment and health. Strict regulations need to be enforced.

Climatic changes in rainfall patterns, wind directions, temperature rise due to deforestation, open burning, and global warming affect photosynthetic rates and hence plant growth and yield. Improved varieties in terms of yield, quality, pest and disease resistance need to be planted along with appropriate fertilizer and other cultural practices.

Mechanization, has improved production efficiency and obviate much of the laborious work in land preparation, sowing, and harvesting needs further research and fine tuning.

There has been talk of being self-sufficient in rice for decades but our political will and development strategies are not committed to attain the goal. Many including politicians view that to rely on import is more economical. It is a short-sighted and blatantly selfish approach. We need to lay the provision for future generations.

Food security is national security. Being self-sufficient means that we can take on globalization and the FTA squarely on the face.

The chloroplast rice genome mapped by Japanese rice scientists.

There is an urgent need for the country to establish a dedicated wholesome strategy to be self-sufficient in rice. The strategy should be comprehensive using cutting-edge science, technology and arts towards self-sufficiency of the rice industry. The existing structures, facilities, and institutions working on rice are but disparate entities. Their functions and efforts lack cogency and coordination resulting in serious gaps and bottlenecks plaguing the padi and rice industry.

Considering the complexity of the issues and challenges facing the rice industry it is imperative that Malaysia establish a NATIONAL RICE RESEARCH INSTITUTE using the framework of rubber, cocoa, and oil palm as templates. We have witnessed tremendous technological advancement in those crops. Their successes are made possible due to the adequate number of highly trained staff, advanced equipments and facilities, budget, policy support, and other enablers well committed to better achieve institutional goals.

Many Asian countries have long established their national rice research institutes to ensure food security.

 “Rice is so ingrained in the psychology of our people that we cannot suggest eliminating it. It is precisely because it is so important to us that we have a constructive starting point to develop interest and involvement in producing more and better rice, more cheaply and efficiently” - Tun Abdul Razak Hussin.

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