2022 AG's Report: Call for comprehensive action plan for padi sector to tackle wastages

KUALA LUMPUR: An in-depth action and intervention policy is needed for the padi sector to correct and reverse the effects of wastages outlined in the 2022 Auditor General's Report, said an expert.

Universiti Putra Malaysia Institute of Tropical Agriculture and Food Security research fellow Datin Paduka Dr Fatimah Mohamed Arshad said that the 2022 AG Report highlights a worrying trend in the padi planting sector.

"Time and time again, despite interventions, issues like this arise. The industry needs urgent intervention. To reduce leakages and wastages, agricultural startups must be given grants to encourage the development of digital platforms and applications for seed distribution, fertiliser, production, and marketing activities," she said.

Accordingly, she noted that the problem of leakage and market manipulation can be minimised through the usage of these digital platforms. She also recommends authorities replace the current input subsidy system with an output subsidy.

"Input subsidies should be replaced by output subsidy payments whose value includes the value of input subsidies. The benefits of this system include giving farmers the opportunity to make the best decisions for their rice fields, thereby saving costs and increasing profits."

The authorities should minimise the cost of centralised fertiliser distribution, allowing farmers to directly purchase their own fertilisers.

"As such, we must spur the growth of local fertilisers and the entry of new entrepreneurs, including farmers, in this sector," she said.

Fatimah added that padi farmers' income must be addressed to ensure self-sufficiency. Meanwhile, Malaysian Agroecology Society for Sustainable Resource Intensification (SRI-Mas) president Emmy Farha Alias said that the existing layers of governance within the Padi Planting Programme have allowed for such wastage and leakage of funds.

"The problem is not only mismanagement but the understanding that agriculture is not a manufacturing production system. Each rice cultivation programme focuses on so-called tech solutions: Smart paddy fields, machinery, pumping in chemical inputs, and improving seed quality. "She added that to address such issues, the relevant authorities have to look into the agro-ecology approach, where the current padi programme is broken into smaller groups.

"Part of this is enabling self-sufficiency where farmers produce simple things like composting and small-scale agricultural tools. Supporting them to engage in mixed agriculture and sustainable food production systems. These solutions may not seem as 'sexy' as big machines and the latest chemical fertilisers and large padi fields," she said.

She said that these age-old ancestral and cultural solutions have worked and allowed smallholders to thrive, which, in turn, cleans up leakages.

"I would like to see the government support these smallholders instead of solely focusing on the big, showy players."

Earlier today, the 2022 Auditor General's Report revealed that the remaining accumulated allocation of RM448.87 million for Padi Planting Programme Management was not spent last year.

Auditor General Datuk Wan Suraya Wan Mohd Radzi said the fund was channelled by the Agriculture and Food Security Ministry to the Board of the Farmers' Organisations (LPP) for the purpose of providing subsidies and incentives to rice farmers.

The report also revealed that the government did not take any action against the supplier of fertilisers for the delay in supplying the items for the period between 2016 and 2019.

The delay has caused the government and the target groups to incur losses.

The report also found that almost a quarter of 77,275 rice farmers have an average income below RM600 per month where it involved a total of 17,525 rice farmers, which is 22.7 per cent of total rice farmers in the country.

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