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3l: Agriculture


Preamble

There are two categories of agriculture production in Malaysia: commodity and

food. The former falls under the Ministry of Plantation Industries and

Commodities (MPIC); the latter, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry

(MAFI). Commodity production is largely operated by large companies—for

example, only 40% of oil palm is cultivated by small farmers. On the other hand,

approximately 90% of producers in the food sector are smallholder farmers.

Despite improvements in food production, Malaysia continues to be a net

importer of food, as 100% self-sufficiency is still impossible due to poor policies

and implementation. Some of the imports are for the local industry to add value

and export later. The main food imports are temperate fruits and vegetables,

wheat, sugar, salt, beef and mutton.

Locally, the demand and need for agricultural produce are growing as

consumption patterns change, especially among the urban population. When the

COVID-19 pandemic broke out, local food production and distribution were

disrupted due to the limited supply of raw materials and inputs, shortages in

labour and market access, hindrances in global supply chains and exports, as well

as an overall slowdown in agriculture services due to lockdowns and transport

restrictions. In 2020, we imported food products worth RM55.5 billion compared

with exports worth RM33.8 billion. This resulted in an increased trade deficit in

food products amounting to RM21.7 billion, a difference of 24.9% from the

previous year.

I. Food Security & Sovereignty

Many reports conclude that the root causes of the country’s low agricultural

backwardness stems from the lack of use of modern technology and

unproductive smallholder farmers due to uneconomical farm size. Rarely

discussed are the major problems of farmers, such as subsidy leakages largely

enjoyed by supplier companies and contractors (non-farmers), market

exploitation of input and yield prices, oppressive corporate monopolies, debt

traps, and entry of low-quality foreign products that are cheap, unregulated and

exploit stakeholders. Our failure to identify real problems in the field will only

exacerbate the situation when new technologies and control systems are

introduced.

1. Give farmers freedom over seeds, agricultural inputs and market

choices.

i. Loosen overly formal controls in our agricultural ecosystem.

ii. Repeal laws governing the freedom of farmers, such as the Seed Quality

Act and the Amendment to the Protection of New Plant Varieties Act

2004.

iii. Break up the monopoly of supply of agricultural inputs and the market

of agricultural products, whether by agencies or the private sector.

(NurFitri Amir Muhammad, Forum Kedaulatan Makanan Malaysia, Proposal 3L-1)

2. Do not sign any free trade agreements (FTAs).

FTAs will remove import controls on agricultural products, leading to the

flooding of cheap and low-quality products from supplier countries, which will

affect the local market.

(NurFitri Amir Muhammad, Forum Kedaulatan Makanan Malaysia, Proposal 3L-1)

3. Decentralise the agricultural ecosystem—i.e. create a new ecosystem

based on local nature.

Decentralisation will reduce costs and the risk of logistical failure, especially in

the event of a crisis.

(NurFitri Amir Muhammad, Forum Kedaulatan Makanan Malaysia, Proposal 3L-1)

4. Empower the Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (FAMA) to buy

farmers’ products through cold storage systems in each locality.

Through this system, FAMA can also help local farmers sell their produce at

affordable prices for both the local and export markets.

(Ku Nurasyiqin Ku Amir, activist/Ph.D. student, Proposal 3L-2)

5. Implement modest economies of scale through the establishment of

local cooperatives or companies that are confined to the area.

(Bawani K.S., Jaringan MARHAEN, Proposal 3L-3; NurFitri Amir Muhammad, Forum Kedaulatan Makanan Malaysia, Proposal 3L-1)

6. Limit farm areas.

Prevent large-scale estate farming which leads to monopoly and more harm to

the environment and farmers’ welfare.

(Bawani K.S., Jaringan MARHAEN, Proposal 3L-3)

7. Change the current subsidy system to direct assistance to farmers.

Rather than benefiting farmers, the current subsidy system is exploited by

vendors. Direct assistance would be better, such as coupon systems or metric

cards to buy agricultural inputs.

(NurFitri Amir Muhammad, Forum Kedaulatan Makanan Malaysia, Proposal 3L-1)

8. Help small and medium agricultural entrepreneurs to compete at a

higher level without involving established corporate companies.

Government assistance in the form of finance or support for established

corporations will only help them expand their monopoly, to the detriment of

smallholder farmers and consumers in the long run.

(Bawani K.S., Jaringan MARHAEN, Proposal 3L-3)

II. Farmers’ Rights

Smallholder farmers are faced with greater risks of falling into poverty when their

income is unstable, which in turn affects dimensions of well-being such as health

and food security. Environmental changes such as weather uncertainties and

disease attacks, the COVID-19 pandemic and rising costs of living have created

greater precarity for farmers, making their work all the more challenging.

Although the National Agro-Food Policy aims to increase production every year,

this will be difficult to achieve if the rights of farmers are not upheld.

9. Upgrade the farmers’ rights component as part of the MAFI policy.

(Ku Nurasyiqin Ku Amir, activist/Ph.D. student, Proposal 3L-2)

Smallholder farmers need several support systems such as social safety nets that

will guarantee their income during periods of bad weather or disease attacks.

They also need assistance from extension officers, who may offer advice and

guidance on improving agricultural practices in order to get better yields or

income. At the same time, there should be an assessment of intergenerational

poverty in peasant families. The direct impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on

the lives of these farmers also needs to be taken into account, especially with

regard to nutrition, education and mental health. Collectively, smallholder

farmers need to understand their rights and be allowed to participate in the

decision-making process at government level.


III: Access to Land

Land is the lifeblood of agriculture. Agriculture is the nation’s backbone, as it

provides food and generates job opportunities, particularly in the rural areas, and

serves as a foundation for the development of the country. The government

should therefore exercise strong political will in providing farmland to

smallholder farmers and ensuring land security for them. The real value and

conditions of land for agriculture should be maintained and preserved, and

priority should be given to smallholders and farmers before a piece of land is

parcelled out to a third party for development.

10. Maintain agricultural areas for food cultivation.

(Vijayagandi Ramasamy, Gabungan Penternak/Jaringan MARHAEN, Proposal 3L-4;

Bawani K.S., Jaringan MARHAEN, Proposal 3L-3; Tan Tean Chee, Persatuan Pertanian

Moden Chemor, Proposal 3L-5)

Only about 10% of available land area designated for agricultural purposes is

used to grow vegetables and fruits. This is largely disproportionate, compared

with the amount of land (over 80%) that is used for oil palm, rubber and other

commodities. If it is absolutely necessary to redevelop land that was previously

secured for agricultural purposes, the government must ensure that the tenant

smallholder farmers and farm animal breeders are duly compensated with a

suitable area of farmland before being evicted, to allow them to carry on with

their agricultural activities.

11. Give smallholder farmers a lease of 20 years.

(John Ku, Activist, Proposal 3L-6; Tan Tean Chee, Persatuan Pertanian Moden Chemor,

Proposal 3L-5)

With enough time, farmers will have confidence that their investment in

developing the land will pay off. Leases on agricultural land should come

attached with the condition that the land can only be used to supply foods.

12. Modify state government standard operating procedures related to land

disposal (alienation of land) to reflect the approach of farmers’ rights to

access to land.

(Vijayagandi Ramasamy, Gabungan Penternak/Jaringan MARHAEN, Proposal 3L-4;)
(Bawani K.S., Jaringan MARHAEN, Proposal 3L-3)

Improve state land regulations by creating a committee to monitor the handling

of government-leased land used by small farmers. Land that is found to have

been changed for non-agricultural related purposes should be reclaimed and

given to other farmers.


Concluding Remarks

The potential value of the agricultural sector should not be measured purely in

terms of business and commodities; it should also be calculated in terms of its

contributions to food security, improving livelihoods in rural areas, farmers'

welfare, and its potential to generate revenue and release resources into other

strategic sectors to propel the nation’s socioeconomic development. The

government needs to acknowledge that this sector will not be able to survive

without implementing important land reforms that serve to regulate competing

land use issues arising from land development, and curb the unscrupulous actions

of certain land developers, especially those from the housing and manufacturing

sectors, who have placed tremendous pressure on the smallholder farming

community. Without food security, the future of the country will not be

guaranteed.

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