Idle Government land can be used for agriculture — Azmin

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PUTRAJAYA (May 3): Idle Government land not earmarked for development will be identified for agriculture projects, said Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali.

He added the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry (MoA) will study the methods on how to provide opportunities for farmers and smallholders to use these plots of land to increase their income, and the country's crop yields.

“According to preliminary information, there is much Government-owned land lots that have not been developed till today, and there are no plans to utilise them.

“Therefore, it is better for us to develop idle land for agriculture,” he told a joint press conference with his MoA counterpart Datuk Salahuddin Ayub after a strategic discussion between both Ministries here today.

In addition, Mohamed Azmin said the worrying food trade balance now had forced the Government to seek new potential in order to reduce the country's dependence on imported food products, as well as to increase farmers’ incomes.

He said although food exports grew by 2.2 percent last year compared with 2017, food imports increased by 3.5 percent in the same period.

“This has led to deficits in certain sectors such as sugar and honey recording RM3.2 billion (deficit), meat and meat preparation also at RM3.2 billion, vegetables (RM3.3 billion), grains (RM3.4 billion) and livestock (RM3.9 billion),” he said.

Mohamed Azmin said reducing dependence on imported food can be implemented in Malaysia if modern technology and new approaches are used to increase productivity.

“That is why MoA has suggested several immediate actions for cash crops, inter-cropping and integrated plants, and to use modern agriculture like  hydroponics, aquaponics, fertigation or vertical farming,” he said.

On today’s discussion, Mohamed Azmin said it was held following a White Paper themed ‘Towards FELDA’s (Federal Land Development Authority) Sustainability” that was tabled in Parliament on April 10, which opened the door to introduce new crops that could provide yields in a shorter period under the new revenue programme.

A special committee between both Ministries would be formed and headed by the secretaries-general of both Ministries to mobilise a programme involving a RM1 billion allocation for four years, from 2019 to 2022, he said.

“We both agreed to conduct immediate training to the new generation of Felda, who are involved in the modernisation of  the agriculture sector at present,” Mohamed Azmin said.

Meanwhile, Salahuddin said growing of crops with short-term yields including turmeric, ginger, lemongrass and  high-valued vegetables will be implemented systematically under the programme.

“For permanent plants, we can see the potential in durian, J33 honey jackfruit and also other cash crops that we feel are important to help the livestock industry such as maize which can be used as livestock feed,” he elaborated.