PETALING JAYA: The federal government should revive the National Padi and Rice Board and reinvigorate the local rice industry by improving the livelihood of padi farmers, Penang state assemblyman Gooi Hsio Leung of PKR said today.
Gooi, who is the representative for Bukit Tengah, said padi farmers continue to live in poverty faced with increasing production costs.
“Most small to medium-sized rice mills that once dotted the landscape of padi fields across the country have all but disappeared,” he said in a statement today.
On Friday, Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister Salahuddin Ayub announced that a working paper on breaking the Bernas monopoly was being drafted for submission to the government for further action.
Gooi said Salahuddin had in two weeks ended “years of special treatment given to a BN crony company to make huge profits for its shareholders at the expense of padi farmers and consumers”.
As a result of the previous government’s neglect, previous national targets set by the government over the past two decades to achieve self-sufficiency in rice production had never been realised, Gooi said.
Billions of ringgit had been lost as a result of the agriculture ministry’s neglect, mismanagement and abuse of national rice subsidy programmes such as the ST15 rice subsidy which has since been scrapped.
Gooi hailed the federal government’s decision to end the monopoly on rice imports, held by Padiberas National Bhd (Bernas).
He said padi farmers, rice millers and others in the industry had cried out to the previous Barisan Nasional government to review the role of Bernas in the national rice industry.
Instead the previous government had allowed Bernas to become wholly privatised and exempted from import duty for rice. Gooi said the billions of ringgit that could have been collected from the duty could have been channelled back to aid poor padi farmers.
In contrast, rice-consuming countries such as Japan and Korea imposed high import tariffs of more than 200% to protect their local rice industry, he said.