Friday March 30, 2012
We’re in need of a padi cure
By P. ARUNA
KUALA LUMPUR: Almost 100,000ha of padi land in the peninsula – the equivalent of 50,000 football fields – have given way to industrial and housing development over the last 15 years.
In Sabah and Sarawak, padi fields decreased by about 6,000ha in the same period.
With the increasing population, Malaysia will have to spend billions of ringgit more on rice imports – unless yield from existing padi fields can be boosted.
According to the Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Ministry, padi land in the peninsula decreased from 372,542ha in 1997 to 284,441ha last year.
The ministry, in a statement to The Star, said the padi fields were converted into housing estates and commercial land.
Some were planted with oil palm, pineapple and vegetables.
Mardi is concerned with at least maintaining the current level of self-sufficiency.
Its Rice Research Centre deputy director Dr Marzukhi Hashim said: “With the increasing population, our 72% rate of self-sufficiency will decline unless strategic measures are taken to increase rice production on existing padi land.”
One way is to increase production of hybrid rice, he told The Star.
Now, only about 200ha of land in the country is planted with the hybrid variety developed with technology from China.
“But the uptake of hybrid seeds among farmers is slow. Farmers are not familiar with how to plant the seeds.
“They have to understand that although the seeds are more expensive, you need less of them for a higher yield,” Dr Marzukhi said.
“Use of hybrid rice can increase yield by between 20% and 30%. So the challenge now is to get more farmers to use the seeds.”
He also said that Mardi was expected to come up with its own variety of hybrid rice by next year.
According to the Statistics Department, the population grew an average of 2% a year between 2000 and 2010, from 23.3 million to 28.3 million.
Malaysia now imports between one million and 1.2 million tonnes of rice a year from Vietnam (49%), Thailand (33%), Pakistan (16%) and other countries (2%). Malaysians consume 180,000 tonnes of rice a month.
Accordiing to a source from Bernas, the rice distributor and industry regulator, Malaysia spent RM1.85bil on rice imports last year.
Dr Marzukhi said: “If we continue at the present level of production, we will soon have to spend billions more in rice imports.”