One of these obstacles is the stagnation of the agriculture sector, be it the lack of research and development (R&D) into new farming techniques, the lack of skilled farmers or the food production crisis which have resulted in Malaysia importing 30% of our rice needs. These are the challenges facing our new Minister of Agriculture & Agro-Based Industry YB Datuk Salahuddin Ayub. As such he aims to further industrialise our agriculture sector, as well as increase awareness on just how critical this sector is to our national economy to a whole generation of future agriculturalists and farmers. International Business Review gleans some insights from this self-proclaimed “simple kampung boy from Tanjung Piai” on new solutions to old problems and his determination to make our food, his priority.
Food security is a big priority for Datuk Salahuddin, as our country spends nearly RM25 billion on food imports per year, and he realises that is definitely not sustainable for our future. With rice production at 70 percent of our consumption, this will be an uphill task for him.
Therefore, he is dead-set on overcoming this 30% deficit and reducing the general price of foods here by relying less on foreign imports, by increasing crop yields. Thus, the Ministry is focusing on introducing new varieties of seeds that are resistant to diseases and pests through investing in R&D. This project took a successful turn in 2018 by introducing farmers to high-quality seeds known as MR303, MR307, UKM RC-2, and UKM RC-8.
Recognising just how much the chemicals in our soil can affect crop yields, the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) is tackling the root of the problem by strategising ways to effectively enhance fertilisation through soil profiling analysis. This is being done by multiple R&D teams, headed by agencies like the Malaysian Agriculture Research & Development Institute (MARDI).
This is an ongoing process that they routinely practice every 6 months, to ensure that the soil is suitable enough for the new seed varieties the MOA wants to introduce. Many of these tests have been spread out in fields all across Malaysia, focusing on Kedah, Sekinchan in Selangor, parts of Kelantan, as well as Sabah and Sarawak. Datuk Salahuddin is ambitious and purposeful with his plans, telling International Business Review that while our current national rice yield is around 4.2 metric tonnes/ha, they are planning to double production by 2020 and make the issue of limited paddy yields a thing of the past.
However, Datuk Salahuddin isn’t content to solely plan for long-term success. Recognising the urgency in this issue of food security, he has proposed to utilise the National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) to increase agricultural yield. The initial aims of the NFC project were to meet local meat demand while maintaining opportunities for young entrepreneurs to learn how to rear their livestock.
The Minister, however, is aware of the public’s perception towards this project, in light of corruption scandals involving the former Minister of Women, Family and Community Development who headed it. As such, he wants to assure us that we will do better, as a country. “While projects under the NFC have failed before, I will ensure that our future projects will be truly successful. I am looking at 2-3 different models to make it work more efficiently, as well as seeing foreign buyers from Japan to secure our future NFC projects.”
Another issue the Minister must contend with is increasing our number of non-palm oil agricultural exports which have fallen in recent times. Datuk Salahuddin has taken to researching and studying new varieties of pineapple that can grow better in our soil, in order to boost the marketing of Malaysian produce in international markets. One of the best examples of this is their new, healthier-growing strain of pineapple known as MD2, which has been spearheaded by Lembaga Perindustrian Nenas Malaysia or Malaysia Pineapple Industry Board (MPIB).
The MOA is stressing on the need for R&D in the agricultural sector and has called upon agencies and farmers alike to invest in the technologies that will aid this. One example which Datuk Salahuddin discusses is a particularly useful process known as fertigation. In order to increase the yield of their produce without direct damage to the soil itself, fertigation injects fertilisers, soil and water amendments and other water-soluble products into an irrigation system.
This is a technique that can be done in small areas even behind the house and is quite useful for crops that have difficulty increasing yield. The MOA seeks to extend this effort beyond paddy and into other industries as well, providing a more holistic support structure for local farmers everywhere.
“I am determined to overcome the 30 percent deficit in rise production and to reduce the general price of foods here by relying less on foreign imports, by increasing crop yields.” – Datuk Salahuddin Ayub, Minister of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry
“It is a dream for us to live here and it is that same dream that makes us all Malaysian. This means we have to work hard and make sure we are really one of the top nations in this field.” Datuk Salahuddin is no stranger to hard work and it shows in the thought and drive he has put into each strategy. These policies can only become that much more effective if we have farmers and horticulturalists who match his dedication. For them, he has a message: we need you, now more than ever, to help resolve this crisis. And with the MOA’s strong leadership, we are sure to see a lot more success from our local farmers and government authorities.