An academic believes that increasing rice production is a preferable solution to building a dam in Tambatuon.
According to Christopher Teh, the dam is not the sole means to increasing Malaysia’s rice productivity as there was still plenty of room to increase the yields of existing paddy fields.
“Each field has a maximum potential yield of 10 tonnes per hectare but the current national average only stands at 4 tonnes per hectare per year,” he said.
“I’m not against increasing land acreage but between that and increasing the yields, the latter is a better choice. Let’s use what we already have instead of opening up new paddy fields and incurring
Teh’s assessment is at odds with that of Kota Belud MP, Abdul Rahman Dahlan, who is championing the construction of the Tambatuon dam to irrigate 25,000 hectares of unproductive paddy fields in Kota Belud.
The controversial project will involve flooding Kampung Tambatuon and resettling the 600 villagers there. But Rahman has maintained that the dam is vital to increasing rice production and averting a recurrence of the 2008 rice crisis.
Teh, however, said that Malaysia’s rice productivity has increased every year despite the acreage remaining fairly constant since the 1980s.
But he also noted that rice productivity must increase by at least 4.9% per year if Malaysia is to reach its target of being 100% self-sufficient in 2015.
Move beyond Mada and Kada
Last year, Deputy Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister, Johari Baharom, said that Malaysia could achieve 100% self-sufficiency if its two major rice areas increased their yields by between 5% and 10%.
The two areas are the Muda Agricultural Development Authority (Mada) and the Kemubu Agricultural Development Authority (Kada). But both Rahman and Teh disagreed with him.
“Future increases in production yield in Mada and Kada will not be able to replace the quantity imported by Malaysia,” said Rahman. “Both areas are almost saturated in terms of rice production yield and land areas.”
“They cannot, forever, supply the increasing needs of Malaysians in the future. And their acreage is diminishing because of housing developments there.”
Teh added that that while Mada and Kada could still experience small increases, it was also time to move beyond them and focus on low yield areas instead.
“Trying to squeeze more out of Mada and Kada is like testing a new vitamin on a healthy person. You won’t see the same results as you would if you gave that vitamin to someone who is ill.”
Sabah’s rice production challenge
In an earlier rebuttal, Rahman said that the national yield average has been dragged down by low yield areas in Sabah and Sarawak.
He also said that the dam would lift Kota Belud out of poverty.
Both points are supported by the research findings of UPM’s Associate Professor in the Deaprtment of Urban and Regional Planning, Ibrahim Ngah.
Ibrahim identified the state’s major rice producing areas as Kota Belud and Kota Marudu which contribute 70% of the state’s total rice production.
However, he found that rice covers 3% of Sabah’s total crop area and that rice production last year only accommodated up to 40% of the population needs.
“The problem is that Sabah has limited space for rice cultivation as large areas there are mountainous,” he said. “Some 29% of its land is suitable for agriculture and 84% of that has already been cultivated.”
“There is a need for further monitoring and management of the development of rice-producing area. This goal will not only ensure stable and continuous rice production but also improve the socio-economic welfare of the people.”