KUALA LUMPUR (Sept 12): Titiwangsa Member of Parliament Datuk Seri Johari Ghani has called on the government to work towards lessening Malaysia’s dependency on rice imports to meet domestic demand for the grain.
At the Dewan Rakyat on Tuesday (Sept 12), Johari said commodity prices have risen over the past two years due to several external factors, including the Russia-Ukraine war as well as higher logistical costs.
According to him, food prices, such as chicken, egg, cooking oil and most recently rice, have also spiked over the same period as a result.
Touching on rice in particular, Johari said Malaysia imports a large share of its rice supply to meet domestic demand, noting that locally-produced rice only meets 62.6% of total demand.
“Previously, our rice paddy farmers could produce 71% of the total demand, but now it is 62.6%. The government depends on rice imports to supply the rest (37.4% of demand),” he said.
While Malaysia’s dependency on rice imports increased, Johari said the government has continued to fork out more from its coffers as rice exporting countries hike prices.
He said the government currently purchases rice from India, the world’s largest rice exporter, at US$540 (RM2,523) per tonne, compared to US$380 per tonne previously.
Meanwhile, he added that prices in Thailand and Vietnam have also increased, to US$600 per tonne from US$420 per tonne and to US$680 per tonne from US$490 per tonne, respectively.
“Other rice exporting countries are expected to have a similar policy that will continue to push up global rice prices in the near future,” he said.
Overall, Johari said Malaysia imported 1.23 million tonnes of rice in 2022, with an import value of RM2.67 billion.
“It is not just a question of money, but if one day we want this 1.23 million tonnes [of rice] to meet the needs of our people but no country wants to sell to us, what will happen?” he posed.
Johari suggested that Malaysia should mimic Vietnam’s past transformation, where it developed from a rice-importing country back in the 1990s to becoming one of the world’s largest rice exporters today.
“If we could make this country the second largest palm oil exporter in the world, if we truly focus on this rice issue with Mardi (Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute), I believe that with the involvement of private companies that are involved in the cultivation of rice on a large-scale, Malaysia can become a rice exporting country,” he said.
He underlined that Malaysia ranked 41st on the Global Food Security Index (GFSI) 2022, while its neighbour across the causeway, Singapore, was slotted higher at 29th despite the disparity in land size.
“In fact, Middle Eastern countries with extreme climates such as Oman, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are also in a higher position than us [on GFSI 2022],” he added.
Malaysia is currently experiencing a supply disruption of locally-produced rice, which led to the government imposing a 100kg limit on purchases of locally-produced white rice.
Meanwhile, the country's sole rice importer Padiberas Nasional Bhd (Bernas) raised the imported price of rice to RM3,200 per tonne, from RM2,350 per tonne, on the back of factors including weakening currency exchange rate, high operating costs and the impact of the white rice export ban announced by India beginning July.
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