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Paying the price for shunning farming

 | January 17, 2012

Malaysia could have braced for a food disaster if it did not take its eyes off agriculture and focus solely on other industries years ago, a food expert said.

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia’s impending food crisis could have been avoided if it had not cut off its farming arm years ago, a food expert claimed.

Former Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) professor Mohd Peter Davis said the government, prior to the 1997 economic crisis, took its eye off agriculture and focused wholly on other industries.

This, he alleged, caused the country’s food security to suffer.

“We never really recovered from where we were (left off). If we carried on (with our agricultural programmes), we could have been virtually self-sufficient in cattle and milk,” he told FMT in an interivew.

According to Mohd Peter, many agricultural-based academics suddenly had their research grants taken away from them without warning.

“During that time, I was doing research on intensive sheep production…We had sheep inside sheds, feeding them new diets. This was quite successful, and we were producing four-month-old lambs for the market. They’re very delicious for that age.”

“We were just about to move up into… big industrial shed and set the standard for the whole country. At that stage, Malaysia closed down all its agricultural research,” he said.

As a result, many farming academics had to close shop. Mohd Peter said he had to jump into housing, just to keep himself employed.

In a previous report, Mohd Peter warned that the country was on the brink of a food disaster, especially with a global economic meltdown on the horizon.

This was backed by the World Bank’s Malaysia Economic Monitor (Smart Cities) report, which said that the country’s self-sufficiency in rice shrunk to 62 percent in 2007 from 71 percent in 1970.

Additionally, the country had to rely on imported food to feed its people.

Technological advancements

Kota Belud MP (Umno) Abdul Rahman Dahlan previously said that former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad seemed to favour industrialisation over agriculture; a trend that was not reversed until much later.

A worldwide economic crisis would put Malaysia’s food situation in jeopardy, Mohd Peter claimed, forcing many of its citizens to go hungry.

According to the former UPM don, the country also suffered from poor food production, especially where livestock was concerned.

“For over 500 years, Malaya has been trying to produce its animals the European way, which was putting them out to graze. But the environment here is too harsh, and the grass is not good, so the native cows (ended up) no good,” he said.

He cited technological advancements in farming, such as air-cooled animal sheds, which could multiply livestock production to feed Malaysians and cut back on food imports at the same time.

As an example, Mohd Peter said that an associate of his had recently set up a five-acre farm consisting of 100 Jersey cows from Australia, costing RM3.5 million.

The move, he said, was profitable. Mohd Peter claimed that each cow there could be milked for 14 litres a day, with a return-on-investment (ROI) after less than four years.

With this in mind, he claimed that Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry did not know what it was doing.

“They don’t run any farms,” he said, referring to the ministry. “Food is produced by entrepreneurs, not the government. They don’t produce anything, all they do is block (efforts)… They’re not involved in food production.”

“If they gave them setup grants to do this (use high-tech farming methods), it would solve all our problems. These people think they know it all, and they just block any innovations coming in,” he said.

The controversial National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) was one of the government’s attempts in boosting livestock production in the country.

However, the project has since fallen into scandal, with allegations of mismanagement and incompetence surrounding it.

Also read:

Food crisis looming


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