Think tank says Sabah can become Malaysia’s rice bowl

A think tank says only 10% of Sabah’s fertile land has been utilised for paddy cultivation.

KOTA KINABALU: An MCA-linked think tank has urged Sabah to unlock what it says is the state’s huge potential to become the nation’s rice bowl, saying the current Covid-19 crisis offers an opportunity to rethink the food industry.

“We must reactivate the thousands of hectares of idle paddy land while diversifying to food crops outside of commodities such as oil palm,” said the Institute of Strategic Analysis and Policy Research (Insap).

Insap deputy chairman Pamela Yong however said Sabah lacked the political foresight, adding that state leaders should not take comfort in the fact that Sabah has adequate food for the next four months.

“Yes, Padiberas Nasional Berhad (Bernas) had assured Sabah it has a four months stockpile. So what’s beyond this four-month horizon?” she asked.

“We must embrace smart partnerships and sharing of technologies and innovations in new farming techniques to productively farm our vast area of coastal lands.

Yong pointed out Sabah’s high dependency on food imports, especially rice.

In 2017, 74% of its total food imports was rice, while vegetable imports made up 47%, according to data from the Sabah Agricultural Blueprint 2018.

She warned that the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the global food industry, with several Asean countries considering to ban rice exports.

“That set tongues wagging among Sabahans, asking whether food security could morph into a major crisis in the months ahead,” Yong added.

She said much of Sabah’s fertile land remained unused, adding that only 10% of land suitable for paddy cultivation was utilised.

“This is especially worrying for a state that in 2016 had a median household income of RM4,110, below the RM5,228 national average and a gini coefficient of 0.402 compared to the national 0.399.”