Boost padi yields now or prepare for dearer rice, expert warns

Kam-Suan-Pheng-1GEORGE TOWN: The price of rice is likely to shoot up in the future, as unpredictable weather threatens to affect crop cycles, an environmentalist said.

Kam Suan Pheng, a geospatial consultant and expert, said there was, therefore, a need to improve yields and adopt better production technologies.

She said a projection of climate-induced change in production of irrigated rice in Asia in 2050 showed that in countries such as Pakistan and India – from which Malaysia imported rice – there would be a drop in rice productivity.

The warmer, wetter and weirder changes in weather patterns will have an impact on Asian rice production.

“We are rice eaters so we should be worried about this. Any country that is exporting, when there is a drop in productivity, they will look for their self-sufficiency first before they export. So volumes of export will reduce and prices will increase.”

Kam said this when speaking on “Sustainability Challenges from a Changing Climate: Food and Water Security for Penang”, at the Symposium on Sustainable Penang today.

In terms of Malaysia’s rice self-sufficiency, Kam said Malaysia had seen a sharp increase in rice imports since 2000.

The country’s self-sufficiency, she said, had remained essentially the same at 64%, with the national rice padi yield at 3.84 tonnes per hectare.

Under the national agricultural policy, Kam said the target was to reach 96% self-sufficiency, which meant that the national padi yield would have to go up to 5.75 tonnes per hectare.

She noted that Malaysia’s rice production was higher than that of Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s but that Vietnam had gone far ahead of Malaysia in 2015.

“The Muda Agriculture Development Authority (MADA) is doing pretty well. Sekinchan has the highest yield so far. Penang is not doing too bad, at about 5.7 tonnes per hectare.

“This is close to the national average of Vietnam, but the Malaysian national average is brought down as the productivity in other areas are not as high,” she said.

This meant, Kam said, that to get the kind of targeted self-sufficiency, Malaysia had to move a bit further up from the Penang level.

She said that others had mentioned the target for Penang’s rice production between 2015 and 2020 should increase by 75%, which meant, the yield for Penang must increase from 5.7 tonnes to 10 tonnes/ha.

“To be able to achieve this, we have to try to grow rice with less water. We don’t talk only about productivity in terms of tonnes/ha, but we need more crop per drop.

“The technology is available. There is alternate wetting, where you don’t need to flood the fields all the time.

“This technology has proven to work in Vietnam and China. But we are not doing it here. Reduces methane emission, but requires good irrigation management. Can we have that?” Kam asked.

Kam also cited Taiwan’s water infrastructure as an example.

“But you don’t have to go all the way to Taiwan. Basically the irrigation infrastructure in Sekinchan is already quite good. Sekinchan has the highest yields.

“At the same time we have not adopted water saving technologies yet, but we have the potential to do so.

“If Penang wants to reach the 10 tonnes/ha target with less water, we have to go this way. There is the potential in Sekinchan, but we still need investments to have this kind of level in Penang,” she added.