PUTRAJAYA (June 11): The government is looking into ways to increase the productivity of Malaysian paddy farmers to help pull them out of poverty without relying too much on government subsidy.
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, speaking at a press conference after the third meeting of the Economic Action Council (EAC) here today, described the subsidy to paddy farmers as being too costly.
"The government provides RM1.8 billion in subsidy to 200,000 paddy farmers [each year]. This is too costly," he said..
The EAC, Dr Mahathir said, has identified several things that have hindered the productivity of paddy farmers.
"They (paddy farmers) have too small of a [land] holding to provide good returns. It is inefficient," he said, a view closely reminiscent to that towards oil palm smallholders in the Felda White Paper, which was made public a few months ago.
The government is also studying how efficient paddy farmers are able to generate up to 8 tonnes of paddy per acre — or double the crop of others, thanks to better planting methods and proper use of technology.
Additionally, Dr Mahathir said the government "cannot force [paddy farmers] to just plant paddy", and is recommending the planting of cash crops such as mangoes and pineapples that can be harvested many times a year as opposed to paddy.
"In Kedah, paddy farmers can harvest twice a year only. In other places it can only be done once a year," the premier said.
"We have identified areas that we can do to help increase farmers' earnings [which] at the same time [will] not [become] a cost to consumers. Consumer price cannot increase [just] in order to enrich the farmers," he said.
Concurrently, Dr Mahathir said the government also faces the constraint of protecting Malaysia's food security if it allows paddy farmers to divert towards other crops to grow out of poverty.
Malaysia, he said, imports up to RM60 billion of food per year, and the government has a long-term view of reducing that by around half.
The focus on paddy farmers is part of the EAC's effort to improve the wellbeing of rural folks. One initiative includes the revival of National Productivity Council to establish the guidelines and strategic way forward to drive the nation's productivity agenda.