Monday, September 25, 2023

Could local rice shortage be exploited to topple the government?

There is a rumour being circulated on social media claiming Prime Minister Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim has taken over the importation of rice. 

The modus operandi of the takeover and a logical distribution mechanism is not mentioned. Yet the slander goes on to accuse Anwar intentionally making local rice (SST) unavailable to enable him to profiteer from the high retail price of imported rice (SSI). 

The rumour could be laughed off as naive and outright dumb. BERNAS is the sole authorised importer and "manager" of government allocated subsidy for rice. No organisation can be established on short notice to replicate them.

However, in the light of the expressed intention of PAS and PN leaders to "tebuk atap" (hack the rooftop) and topple the unity government, it cannot be simply brushed off.  

It may not be a long shot to assume Tun Mahathir and Tun Daim will exploit the DNAA of Zahid's money laundering case and current shortage of local rice to spark a public unrest. 

A hungry stomach is the tipping point to a  revolution.   

SG4 Adviser

Mahathir has returned to the political fray. Talk is he could be running in a Langkawi by-election. The current MP that made him lost his deposit during GE15 would resign and the reason of mental health cooked up. 

His cooperation with PAS has elevated from Proklamasi Orang Melayu understanding to his appointment as Adviser to the 4 PAS states (SG4). 

After leaving UMNO high and dry at the Muafakat Nasional altar, PAS has again left its ally. Tan Sri Muhyiddin has lost his political appeal and Mahathir is their new flavour.

Since the collaboration, PAS is now on a no holds barred mode to invoke Malay masses anger by provoking 3R issues. PAS could be the new acronym for Parti Anti Sultan. Lies and slanders in their narrative more rampant.

In private conversation, Daim have explicitly expressed intention to topple Anwar following MACC investigation on him in May. The target is within 6 month to a year. December will be 6th month. 

The earliest talk was of 15 BN MPs to withdraw support and trigger by-elections. Not believable to come from the Scrouges, Mahathir and Daim was to bankroll their lawsuit and campaign. 

It later became 7 MPs and ever since, the expected withdrawal of 4 MPs from Johor after the six state elections has dissipated.  

Local rice shortage

The local rice shortage is the much needed issue to escalate the anti-government sentiment and emotion among the Malays. 

The local rice shortage is an issue Mahathir's side is all too familiar. Simply because the problem is his own doing. It was he who corporatised LPN (National Padi and Rice Board) to be BERNAS.

Subsequently it was privatised and listed in 1996 by Daim boys and among the shareholder was Shahidan Kassim. Syed Mokhtar then assumed control to eventually  restructure by delisting and placing it under Tradewind in 2013.  

The BERNAS concession was supposed to expire but under Ismail Sabri's premiership, it was renewed. He may have been directed by Muhyiddin to do. 

PPBM, the party was a recipient of RM195 million from Bukhary Equity. It led to Muhyiddin being charged for gratification in for reinstating the tax exemption status. Lim Guan Eng denied withdrawing the status. Was it then for the rice import monopoly?

It is to the benefit of BERNAS for more rice imported than grown locally. There was never any serious intention to raise the local farmers production and yield. 

Under Mahathir, local rice planting was systematically left to deteriorate with production, yield and acreage getting less and less. The thinking behind is indicated by a comment once made by a former Agriculture Minister that padi planting is the crop of poverty and government will not waste time there.

BERNAS role was really to manage subsidy as in to balance between the price floor offer for padi from local farmer (while they are still around) with cheaper imported rice for local retail. It was never to raise local production. 

However, smallholder padi farmers are given token assistance from government in the form of fertilisers, pesticides and seeds. Unfortunately, there is no political and the  program is marred with corruption and leakage. 

The fertilisers, pesticides and seed are of low quality. The seed provided are low yielding 50-year old clones. In some cases, profiteers supplied NAFAS seeds mixed with padi angin or padi with no rice content.  

There were no genuine motivation to improve the production and livelihood of rice farmers. They were left in a state of poverty. And it resulted in Malaysia lacking self sufficiency of its most basic food.      

Self sufficiency?

Recently, the Secretary to the Rice Industry Development Division of Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security said Malaysia should be pursuing a 100% self sufficiency policy for rice to avoid the disruptive global rice market. The Minister echoed the same and called upon those involved to be more committed. 

That is not the first time. Back in 2015, then Minister for Agriculture and Agro Industry, Ismail Sabri said the same and targetted 2020 for self sufficiency. 

According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM), the self sufficiency level i.e. local rice production stands at 65%. The balance had to be imported from India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, etc. 

DOSM's figure valued imported rice for 2020 at RM 2.5 billion and the figure have been steadily increasing for 20 year (2000 – 2020) at the average annual rate of 4.8%. 

The Ministry reviewed the target to 75% self sufficiency for Rancangan Malaysia ke-12 (2021 – 2025). With 2 years left, it is unlikely to achieve. 

Local rice production have been on a declining trend: 72.3% (2015), 70.3% (2016), 70% (2017), 69% (2018), 65% (2021). Current figure could be 62% or significantly less.

The current rice shortage will repeat and potentially worsen to crisis preportion. There is only two approach to arrest the problem: increase yield and increase acreage. 

According to MOA, the acreage for padi planting in 2019 was 681,559 hectare, in which 62% (425,613 hectare) covers the rice granary (jelapang padi) states of Perlis, Kedah, Pulau Pinang, Perak, Selangor, Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Sarawak and Sabah.

Despite billions of ringgit spent to implement self sufficiency, rice production trend remained stagnant without any significant improvement. As the biggest rice granary in Malaysia, rice production for Kedah MADA increased from 4.76 metric tonne per hectare to 5.58 metric tonne per hectare for the year of 2000 to 2019. Over 19 years, the increase is at an infinitesimal average annual rate of 0.9%. 

Acreage dedicated to padi planting have been reducing due to land development and switching to other more lucrative crops. 

Padi acreage for the Kemubu Agricultural Development Authority (KADA) in Kelantan has reduced from 37,760 hectare to 10,927 hectare throughout 51 years from 1972 to 2023. In Sabah, reported acreage reduced from by 14% (equivalent to 6,429 hectare) over the recent 4 years from 2018 to 2021.

Ministry for Rural and Regional Development announced having identified 50,000 hectares in Sabah and Sarawak for padi planting. It is a positive development but still, the implementation will need time to achieve the desired outcome. 

In his article on Sabah Media, Wan Azrain Adnan concluded that Malaysia will continue to face a rice shortage from time to time till self sufficiency is achieved. 

Without the political will and serious effort to address corruption and leakages, Malaysia will eventually be more dependent on imported rice and god forbid, without rice to feed its populace. 

Worsening situation

There is a global rice shortage due to the El Nina drought, Russia-Ukraine war and substitution from wheat. India stopped exporting white rice and that has pushed international prices up by 30-40%.  

Local rice reserve may have fallen since Covid lockdown due to the disruptive supply chain and missed planting season.  

Worsening the situation, local padi produced is priced too low for a viable livelihood to farmers. The low yield is further discounted by 50% rejection by BERNAS rice mills. 

To allow a rise in imported rice but price ceiling imposed on local rice grown by poverty stricken farmers, it created a new set of problem beyond discouraging padi farming. 

Cost of padi feed for private millers have gone up and it is no more viable with the low SST price. Few privately owned millers have close shop since and certain rice brand no more in the market. So much for self sufficiency.

The low local price resulted in role reversal for BERNAS. From managing subsidy to sustain local farmers, the importer became recipient of government subsidy to enable imported rice to be more affordable locally. Selangor state and Federal government via Rahmah program spending more on subsidy to repackage imported rice as local rice. 

To Syed Mokhtar, BERNAS is his few remaining cashcow and was reported to have taken out dividend of approximately RM1 billion over the past three years to service his debt. 

The local rice shortage has become advantageous for BERNAS. They could get out of the commitment to share 30% of the profit from rice importation to farmers imposed by Anwar. 

That would be the typical character of the miserly Atoq, but Syed Mokhtar the philantropist?

With self sufficiency level believed to be 62% or less yet it is heard BERNAS is only willing to commit only 30% import. Will that means there will be permanent shortage of 8% in the market? 

Syed Mokhtar is known to get the choicest privatisation of government agencies or GLCs. He gets preferential treatment for major infrastructure projects. 

Sources claimed it is because he is the proxy to Mahathir and they control the foid supply chain. Thus it is not difficult for Mahathir to trigger public unrest and topple the government. 

With Putrajaya seat won by PN, deepstate is also at work. The Minister gave assurance there is sufficient rice in the market but yet a lower government officer could negate his statement

Rice supply is still sufficient but one has to pay higher due to Mahathir's established policy to rely on importation of food and forego agriculture to focus on half bake industrialisation. 

To compare the money spent by smokers for their habit to the monthly family budget for rice, it is not relatively significant. The impact will more felt by the low income segment.

Despite being alerted well ahead of the potential problem, the young and urbanite among the current Ministers and those in the corridor of power failed to appreciate the problem.

Perhaps they will had they known that part of Sri Lanka's economic woe was due to failure of agriculture and dependency on food import. 

How long can Malaysia continue to rely on other countries for food supply to feed its people?    


Anonymous said...

Salahkan Melayu sahaja... semasa kerajaan Ismail Sabri, puak pakatan harapan sorok segala keperluan asas, tak jadi masalah... kerana yang penting Anwar jadi PM, DAP boleh tunggang..

Anonymous said...