Sunday, November 12, 2023

MOA's high handed DG, Rice shortage ahead

This blog warned on Thursday that rice shortage problem is far from over and this time it is due to shortage of seedlings. It was explicitly touched in the October 27th posting here.

The problem should have been anticipated at the time millers complained on the high cost of padi. That resulted in Kedah millers unable to sustain operation and lowered seedling production.

Again, MOA's Director General for Padi and Rice Regulatory Division, Dato Azman bin Mahmood is back in his dictatorial mode of solving problems. Done in silo manner, he ignored the impact on the rice supply chain and lay the blame on a bogeyman.

When Azman raised price of imported rice and subsequently put a price ceiling on padi, it disrupted supply and production. Expect the same with his high-handed ways on padi seedlings.

Seedling shortage

The Star reported on Saturday Nov 11th yesterday: 

Looming local white rice shortage


A long wait: Some padi fields in Pokok Sena, Alor Setar left empty after farmers here failed to get subsidised padi seeds.

ALOR SETAR: In five months, the country may face a severe shortage of local white rice due to unpredictable weather and the bloated price of padi seeds.

The erratic weather, said to be the result of climate change, has kept most padi farmers on their toes even though they have switched to a schedule that would allow them to harvest five times every two years.

Another dilemma they face is a shortage in the supply of padi seeds, which has resulted in sky-rocketing prices.

Describing this as a critical situation, farmers in the northern region fear the future does not bode well not only for them, but also for the supply of local white rice.

Padi farmer Wan Maharuddin Sulaiman, 66, from Pokok Sena, said they have been struggling to get certified seeds from suppliers, forcing them to hold back their planting season which was supposed to have started at the end of September.

“Most of us from the Farmers Area Organisations (PPKs) have already booked our seed supply from the suppliers, but we were told that certified seeds were not available.

“The shortage has affected the staple food’s cultivation cycle, and this is not good for the rice yield in the future,” he said.

Wan Maharuddin alleged that certain suppliers were trying to “manipulate” seed prices by hoarding stocks that were supposed to be sold to farmers.

He also claimed that some farmers bought certified padi seeds above the ceiling price set by the government.

Mohd Hashim Ahmad, 60, said farmers who own hundreds of hectares of padi fields in the Muda Agriculture Development Authority (Mada) region were still waiting for the availability of padi seeds.

The padi farmer in Kampung Sena, Perlis, said in some instances, there was supply, but it came in limited amount.

He added that the seeds were priced between RM55 and RM70 per 20kg, which was higher than the RM45 ceiling price imposed by the government.

“The relevant government agencies must keep a close watch on the production of padi seeds so that producers and retailers would not dare manipulate the price of seeds.

“More raids should be carried out to weed out irresponsible ones,” he said.

Mada chairman Datuk Dr Ismail Salleh urged farmers to furnish the authority with evidence and details so that action can be taken against errant suppliers.

“The evidence is vital for us to take action against errant suppliers. So far, all suppliers and retailers, except those from PPKs, sell subsidised seeds above the government-set ceiling price.

“The Agriculture and Food Security Ministry had acted against 21 retailers by revoking their licence for not heeding the government ruling,” he said.

Dr Ismail also said private padi seeds producers and their 456 agents had refused to sell subsidised seeds to the PPKs for distribution to farmers in Kedah.

In Penang, padi farmers are also facing the same problem as their counterparts in Kedah and Perlis.

Kampung Pelet PPK chairman Mohd Fauzi Hussin, 46, said farmers in Bukit Mertajam were unable to get padi seeds from suppliers.

He said farmers in his area were targeting to cultivate padi in February next year, but the shortage of seeds had stopped them from planting for the new season that was supposed to start last month.

“We could not get the seeds from the PPK in the state. When we ask the suppliers, they could not answer us,” he said, adding that the relevant agencies should monitor the situation and solve the shortage as soon as possible.

Penang agrotechnology, food security and cooperative development committee chairman Fahmi Zainol said among the measures that have been implemented were stricter supervision and control over the production of rice and padi seeds.

He said it was vital to continuously monitor the supply of seeds in production facilities, and ensure there is an adequate supply.

“The ministry should increase the quota of seeds, particularly for producers in Penang.”

He said the state agriculture department could also expedite applications to create established farms in the state to address the shortage of basic seeds.

He said this would enable the price to be stabilised and ensure enough supply.

From the report, it is obvious those in authorities are blaming the symptom than making effort to understand the fundamental problem. 

Another of Azman's high-handedness ways

The same with no blame levied at BERNAS for breaching the condition to maintain stockpile as rice import concession holder

Raising imported rice prices benefited BERNAS but resulted in shortage of local rice and drove the price of all types of rice sharply higher. It is to BERNAS benefit but MOA had to solve the problem and cost the taxpayers.  

Padi prices rose correspondingly but serving the interest of BERNAS again, Azman place a ceiling to slash padi price to the poor farmers from RM1,600-RM1,700 per tonne to RM1,250 per tonne and cost to taxpayers.

The 22% to 26% cut from the market price discouraged farmers and could steer them away from agriculture. It could be Azman's intention towards creating large scale padi farms

Lower production by miller led to the current shortage of seeds. Discouraged padi farmers will excerbate the situation. Azman, in the typical fashion of civil servant with position to abuse, is flexing his power by resorting to threat. 

The Saturday Star reported further:

Errant seed suppliers risk losing their licence, ministry warns


PETALING JAYA: Producers, wholesalers, and retailers may have their licence suspended if they are found selling certified rice seeds above the maximum price, says Datuk Azman Mahmood of the Agriculture and Food Security Ministry.

The ministry’s Padi and Rice Regulatory Division director-general said 20 retailers selling legal rice seeds (BPS) above the government-set price of RM45 per 20kg pack had their licences immediately revoked, preventing them from selling rice seeds to farmers.

“The 20 retailers are from Kedah. It is the rice harvesting season now in Kedah, and next, we will progressively conduct enforcement actions nationwide.

“After the rice harvesting season in Kedah, it will be followed by Terengganu and Kelantan, and then Perak and Penang.”

He said the division would inspect 439 retailers nationwide, stressing that the current supply of certified rice seeds was sufficient.

Azman said rice seed production was conducted in stages to meet the needs of growing areas in the north, requiring about 900,000 seed combs for this second-season crop.

As of now, a total of 420,065 seed trowels have been approved for use in Kedah and Perlis, with production records of 89,723 seed trowels on Oct 18, 151,200 seed trowels on Oct 26, and 179,142 seed trowels on Nov 3 this year.

Barrier for corruption

And, Azman created more problems with another ill-thought out directive. Another Star Saturday report

Ministry instructs for rice seeds to be sold directly to farmers organisation and rice farmers


PETALING JAYA: The Agriculture and Food Security Ministry has instructed that rice seeds be sold directly to Regional Farmers' Organisation (PPK) and farmers from Oct 11, 2023, to ensure sufficient supply for the planting season.

Deputy Agriculture and Food Security Minister Datuk Chan Foong Hin said the ministry is ensuring an abundant supply of legal rice seeds and controlling their pricing.

In addition, he said the approval process for 12 legal rice seed producers has been put in place, based on set SOPs, before the seeds reach the farmers.

"A further boost came with the approval of an additional quota of 112,260 seed trowels of 20kg on Nov 10, specifically for the states of Kedah and Perlis," he said in a statement on Saturday (Nov 11).

The ministry also seeks to guarantee reasonable pricing for rice seeds, setting a maximum selling price of RM40 per 20 kg seed trowels at the producing company and RM45 at the retail price.

This decision was enacted through the Director General's Standing Order number 6/2023 to counter potential price manipulation.

In a move towards greater transparency, he said legal rice seeds, specifically for the CL220 variety, that are packaged with specific poisons, must now be sold separately.

The price for this variety has been set at the same maximum levels.

He said constant monitoring and enforcement are being prioritised to ensure price compliance.

He added that the Task Force OP BPS has been activated in the Northern Zone, specifically in the states of Kedah and Perlis, since Nov 7, 2023.

He said 20 retailers selling legal rice seeds (BPS) above the government-set price had been identified, and their licences were immediately revoked.

Under the Control of Paddy and Rice Act 1994 (Act 522), the Ministry holds the power to cancel or suspend the licenses of any parties found in breach of the rules.

He reiterated that the Ministry is seriously considering all submitted complaints and is working hard to ensure the supply and price of legal rice seeds remain reasonable and sustainable.

The required annual supply of legal rice seed is 72,000 metric tons or 3.6 million seed trowels.

The problem is the shortage of seedlings, thus the threat of strict enforcement and relying on leaky distribution will not resolve it. Reporters should be quering Azman where he will source the seedlings?

Just cause the seeds did not reach the farmers through the PKK, forcing the supply may not necessarily make seedlings available and improve distribution. 

Firstly, it is a long known open secret that NAFAS the National Farmers' Organisation led by Ismail Sabri's is corrupted to the core. It is recipient of RM18 billion annual allocation of farm subsidies but leakage of the allocation is 60% or some estimated as high as 80%.  

Subsidies do not necessarily reach farmers. There are non-farmers as members and receiving various subsidies or in cash equivalent. Local subsidies allocation are at the discretion of local political party appointed committee. 

The padi seedlings will likely fall to profiteers. Trust the civil servant to be vigilant in enforcement. It will be as the Malay proverb, melepaskan batuk di tangga (mere cough at the stairway). It is usually not sustainable, and barrier created for corruption.  

Smart SBB did not meet its mark

Not only is the problem with seedlings, the Saturday Star also reported the promising start of the SBB Sekincan program did not meet expectation. The blame was on the unpredictable weather. 

Erratic weather threatens multiple-harvest plan

ALOR SETAR: The Large-Scale Smart Padi Field (Smart SBB) project is supposed to increase the country’s padi production as well as the income of padi farmers.

But unpredictable weather has thrown a spanner in the works, which is supposed to see five harvests every two years.

The five-time harvest plan went well in Kedah and Perlis at the beginning. Many padi farmers recorded excellent results in producing quality rice in their first planting season of the year that began in April.

One of them was Mohd Haniff Darus, 36, who successfully completed his first harvest in September.

“I followed the guideline given by the Muda Agricultural Development Authority (Mada), and it went well,” he said.

Then came the erratic weather, which resulted in him being unable to start his planting season last month.

He said the volatile weather caused his fields in Kampung Sedaka near Yan, Kedah, to flood.

“It was not really that bad, but other farmers might not be as lucky as me,” he said.

According to the Mada planting season, the dates for sowing padi seeds are divided into three phases – from Sept 27 to Nov 11; Oct 7 to Nov 21; and Oct 17 to Dec 1.

These coincide with the northeast monsoon which begins today until next March.

Mada chairman Datuk Dr Ismail Salleh said the scheduled planting season is part of the government’s effort to increase the output of locally produced white rice in the future.

He said the programme to increase the intensity of rice cultivation was carried out on a 214ha area in a pioneer project.

“The effectiveness of this programme is evident as the average yield has increased from 3.3 tonnes per hectare to six tonnes per hectare,” he added.

Among the areas that were involved in the project were Kampung Padang Telela, Kampung Sena and Kampung Katong in Perlis.

In Kedah, the padi fields are in Pantai Jamai, Titi Gajah A and Plot B in Pendang.

SBB program came to being in 2021 during Ronald Kiandee's Ministership and it was handled by Azman. The hope was to raise Malaysia's self sufficiency ratio of rice to 75% by 2025 and 80% by 2030

The Smart SBB experiment in Perlis under BERNAS was run by Allan, a Sekincan farmer and known as an Ah Long on a 1 hectare plot.

The Perlis plot generated excitement for achieving yield of 10.45 metric tonne per hectare. However, production cost is high. Booster was used and it did not meet the health and environmental standard for safe consumption.   

The yield at the other plots failed to meet expectation. Sources claim a plot ran by a PLC merely yielded 2 metric tonne per hectare.

Flood need mitigation

Azman's supervision of rice failed again and as member of Director of BERNAS, he served them well to make the country more desperate for rice and with no choice but scour the globe to import.

His constant high-handed intervention helped disrupt the market and without preemptive measure made the country more dependent on BERNAS monopoly. The RM300 million donation to BERSATU secured 10 year concession extension from Ismail Sabri.

Azman claimed the Ministry will solve the local white rice problem by year end. It is November but seedling shortage problem lurking and his effort to increase production not yielded a convincing result. 

He will justify it was a commitee or cabinet decision. As DG, he determined the agenda for discussion, proposal for considetation, and has influence over decision that need be collectively made. The new KSU know nuts and the more established underlings could already be in his pocket.

Do not hold Mat Sabu or in the previous government, Ronald Kiandee at ransom for their statement or announcement because the material fed and papers for cabinet need his concurrence. Why then Ronald mention is name and insinuated Azman as "pandai" (clever or cunning) in Parliament?

Wonder why KSN is not sending this Bruni attired PTD back to DBKL to face the consequences of the controversial failed flood mitigation projects. 

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