Bernas dismisses allegations it is short-changing paddy farmers

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ALOR SETAR (Aug 29): The national rice agency Padiberas Nasional Bhd (Bernas) has brushed off allegations that it is short-changing paddy farmers by imposing unfair, higher deductions on what it pays farmers to buy their paddies.

Bernas currently buys paddy from farmers at RM1,200 per tonne in Peninsular Malaysia, which is higher than the Guarantee Minimum Price (GMP) of RM750 per tonne imposed under Control of Padi and Rice Act 1994, according to Kilang Beras Bernas (KBB) management head Mohamad Solhi Mohd Salleh.

KBB is Bernas' rice mill. From that per tonne price, Bernas imposes a deduction of between 18% and 24%, depending on the quality of rice they get from farmers. The agency also has the right to reject a portion of the product if there are impurities found caused by pests and diseases.

Solhi said the agency keeps to a set of standard operating procedure (SOP) and regulations that were established by the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry, and formalised last year.

"Bernas supports the government's move towards efficient industry. This (deduction rates) was not devised or revised by Bernas, but is from the ministry and we are governed by the SOP that comes with a table as our guideline.

"It is not something that Bernas simply sets or does. We follow the rules and make sure it is done in as fair and correct a manner as possible," he said at a media briefing ahead of a visit organised by Bernas at KBB's mill in Kangkong here, today.

"There [have] been no changes [in] the price of paddy since 2014 and even if we were to buy paddy from farmers at the minimum level of RM750 (per tonne) they (the farmers) cannot sue us because that's the GMP," he said.

"We have certain procedure (to follow) and our deduction rates [are] based on the quality of the paddy for us to do the grading, before the paddy is put through the milling process," said Solhi.

"We prefer paddy that can turn into white rice and is not watery. We are not interested in straw and immature grains," he said.

Regardless, Bernas is the buyer of last resort if a particular harvest by farmers is rejected by other mills, said Solhi. "We cannot close our door to the farmers. We still have to buy everything from them."

However, a representative of paddy farmers in the North (Kedah, Perlis, Penang and Perak) has urged Bernas to reduce its deduction rates.

"When the deduction rates [are] higher, we (the farmers) get a lower payout for our harvest. This (lower income) really hurt us.

"We want Bernas to consider this (to lower the deduction rates). We want lower deduction rates for us to have better yields," said Abdul Hasan Hamid, who was met during a Bernas-organised media familiarisation trip yesterday (Aug 28, Tuesday).

"We understand the government's move to increase the price of paddy was meant to help us (the farmers) but we still feel burdened because our cost for planting the paddy is much higher," he added.

The country's sole rice importer Bernas is controlled by businessman Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary and owns 28 mills nationwide, 22 of which are located in the North. There are a total of 180 mills throughout the country.