Misplaced priorities and rising food prices
December 26, 2011
Sarawak has vast tracts of land which are ironically being turned into oil palm plantations even as the state becomes heavily dependent on food imports.
By John Brian Anthony
KUCHING: Malaysia’s cost of living has risen steeply. Most basic food like rice, flour, cooking oil, sugar prices has shot up.
In Sarawak, we have land but are totally dependent on the importation of rice (Sarawak imports 70% of its rice consumption). Even fruits are imported from Australia and New Zealand.
So why are we not focused on trying to meet our basic needs? Do we not have enough land to plant rice?
We have enough land, more than enough land. Why then are we not planting enough rice, fruits and vegetables?
The answer is simple: The Barisan Nasional government does not want to allocate money to help farmers farm and cultivate fisheries activities.
Lets look at what technology the government has brought into Sarawak over the years to improve its agricultural production and increase the income of farmers. None.
The government has not allocated much money and has not introduced technology.
At one point the government even shut down the agriculture training centre out of fear that the natives would plant more and it would leave the government with lesser land to grab.
(Last year, the state government announced the reopening of these centre, but I fear the damage has been done).
No subsidies, no support
Farmers, fishermen and those involved in animal husbandry need government support in order to increase production and stabilize the prices.
Take the poultry situation in Sarawak. Now chicken and egg prices have gone up substantially because the government has failed to enable small farmers to rear chickens with subsidy and technical contribution.
Lets look at animal feed. This is so easy to produce. Tapioca and maize/corn are so easy to grow.
All the government needs to do is allocate some money to encourage farmers to plant these crops and a centre for them to sell their crops at a reasonable price. This would help them improve their income.
Pineapple farms, why don’t we have them? Pineapples are so easy to grow but the government has failed to organize a planting system.
They have failed to offer farmers land and technical resources including the setting up of canning factories to process and market this produce. Likewise with bananas.
Another area is fisheries.
The federal government “gives” RM200 ringgit monthly to every registered fisherman but has made no move to help increase fishery activities in fresh water areas or create fish ponds for long term production.
Its not the farmers who are lazy and fail to work.
Government lacks will to help farmers
It is the BN government who has failed to support and implement system to support the marketing and storage of agricultural products.
It is not difficult to grow catfish or ‘ikan keli”. I did on my own but I had no place to sell the fish.
At the end of the day, with small volume we rear we cannot commercialize it into smoke dried food or canned food and sell for local consumption or export.
The government has really not looked after the well being of farmers, who are predominantly Dayaks.
The government only says that it wants to improve agriculture practices and production, but it does almost nothing to actually make it happen.
The move to abolish agricultural subsidy has hurt the farmers the most.
Such subsidy is of critical importance because it helps to bring cost of farming down and bring agricultural productivity upward.
The quality of farming products will also improve as subsidy is always associated with using the “right” product as it has gone through expert evaluation on what is the best and most effective product for money that can be used by poor farmers.
Expert guidance needed
Technology too plays a very big role in order to succeed in farming.
Technology means expert guidance and advise and this means our farmers learn better farming method that will make our community sustainable and robust in coping up with changing economic situation in our country.
Take Bintulu for instance. If a rubber processing plant is set up there, I am sure that rubber would be the crop of choice for farmers.
As it is now, its the middle man who are making money out of buying rubber sheet at low prices and selling it to the exporter at higher price.
No wonder gangsters are interested in controlling the business and the BN government has no solution to the problems.
The fact is that the government is only interested in oil palm because they can make personal money out of the venture.
The writer is a consultant who researches Dayak psychology and culture. He is also the chairman of Dayak Consultative Council.