RM1.8 bil subsidies for padi farmers too costly, says Dr M

A farmer sows padi in a field in Tumpat, Kelantan. The prime minister says the government wants to help overcome the poverty of padi farmers. (Bernama pic)

PUTRAJAYA: Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad today urged padi farmers to buck up and produce more yield per acre, saying Putrajaya has to fork out over RM1.8 billion in subsidies for 200,000 padi farmers each year, which is very costly.

He said holdings of farmers are too small to produce good returns, and that they are not efficient in utilising their land.

“On an acre of land, which can produce eight tonnes in padi yield, they only produce four tonnes. Obviously income from their land will be half the income of other people’s land.

“This, we need to look into. We need to look into improving methods of planting and also the way they apply fertiliser and the like,” he said at a press conference after chairing the Economic Action Council meeting here today.

At the same time, the Pakatan Harapan (PH) chairman said the government wants to help overcome the poverty of padi farmers. He said these farmers could not just plant padi, but should also be encouraged to plant other crops which could bring good returns.

“In Kedah, padi can be planted twice a year. Other places, only once. Therefore, the income will be less.

“This is why we need to look at this as a whole: the reason for poverty among farmers and how to overcome poverty,” he said.

Mahathir also said food security needed to be looked after.

“We need to identify areas we can work on to help increase their earning, but not at a cost to consumers. Consumer prices cannot be increased in order to enrich farmers,” he said.

Mahathir said farmers could earn more by planting other crops such as vegetables or fruits.

“Already in Kedah, farmers are producing harum manis (a mango variety), melons, pineapples. It gives them better returns. Maybe farmers should allocate certain parts of their land to grow other crops,” he said.

Mahathir added that the country’s food imports should be reduced by at least half, from the present RM60 billion.

“We should devote more land to the production of food we are currently importing from other countries. That is one thing.

“The way we farm has to be modernised in order to be more productive,” he added.

Also discussed at the meeting, Mahathir said, was the ease of doing business and how investors and entrepreneurs were finding it hard to get approvals to invest and contribute to the country’s economic growth.

He said even the existence of one-stop centres could not help expedite the process. He noted how, for instance, that there are 60 processes which need to be undertaken in the construction sector.

“Now, the chief secretary to the government has been tasked with reducing the number of processes, to reduce the time to give approval for any investment in the construction sector.

“Of course other sectors are also affected. We want to reduce processes so that we can expedite approval and, therefore, contribute to economic growth,” he added.