KUCHING: There is still a lack of political will to strive for self-sufficiency in rice production in Sarawak which only manages to produce about 53 per cent of the rice consumed by its population of 2.5 million.
As such Land Development Minister Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr James Jemut Masing urged the relevant authorities to put greater emphasis on rice cultivation.
“Food security should be among our priorities and not just submarines and aeroplanes for our defence. We have the land resources and our population is only 2.5 million so there is no reason not to be able to feed ourselves,” Masing told The Borneo Post here yesterday.
He was asked why China with a massive population of 1.4 billion is able to feed its people, whereas Sarawak with a small population depends on imported rice, especially from Thailand and Vietnam.
To become self-sufficient in rice, there was a need to provide better infrastructure such as irrigation in areas suited for rice cultivation such as the Bijat-Stumbin area, Masing said.
“Regular water supply is needed so we are talking about good irrigation network and schemes to develop areas for rice production.
“We cannot keep on importing rice from these countries because if one day they decide not to export rice to us, we will be in trouble,” he said.
When contacted, State Agriculture Department director Datu Lai Kui Fong said the government should put more money into irrigation and research and development (R & D) if it wanted to be self-sufficient in rice.
“We have fertile lands but they are too soft for mechanisation. We need a good irrigation system but implementation is very expensive – between RM35,000 to RM50,000 per hectare,” he said.
Lai said some 5,000 hectares of land in Bijat-Stumbin area had been planted with padi and it would take another five years for 60 per cent self-sufficiency in rice.
He said in the long run, the government also needed good anchor farmers to supplement its padi-planting efforts.
He said apart from Bijat-Stumbin, Bario Highlands had been identified as potential rice bowls.
According to Lai, one of the reasons for low production of rice in the state was the private sector’s lack of enthusiasm since it did not provide good returns.
This was despite the government giving farmers a subsidy of RM1,000 for each hectare of hill paddy planted.
The state government is also cultivating highland crops such as fruits and vegetables in Ulu Baram.
Sarawak currently imports most of its fruits and vegetables from Cameron Highlands and Kundasang in Sabah.
Lai disclosed that Padi Beras Nasional Berhad (Bernas) practises a policy whereby the country must have at least six months of holding stock of rice for emergency needs.