Six-point suggestions for Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to take immediate actions to help farmers to improve production and quality of life

Media Statement
by Ronnie Liu

(Petaling Jaya,  Wednesday): In a special Sunday interview with NST on March 13, 2005, Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin shows his strong determination to promote agriculture and agro-industries in the country. He has stressed on the need for massive re-orientation to boost agriculture. He has also touched on his strategies and directions but unable to spell out concrete plans and measures to help farmers and fishermen to improve their production and quality of life.

According to Muhyiddin, there are about 600,000 people working in the agricultural sector. His ministry has started to gather information from the farmers through a nation-wide census. By now, he should be fully aware that 70% of the vegetable farmers do not possess their own farmland and were considered illegal farmers all these years. The predicament of the Ulu Yam vegetable farmers is just the tip of an iceberg.

Both the Federal and State Governments have neglected the agricultural sector for too long. As a result, many local fruits such as durian, rambutan, mangosteen and chiku are now much more expensive than imported fruits like apples and oranges. One day, we Malaysians may even have to pay a higher price for vegetables than paying for meats.

Muhyiddin has said that he needs to bring in the private sector to invest about RM20 to RM30 billion in the next 5 years in order to push the growth of the agriculture sector from 3.6% of the GDP to 6.8%. Who is going to pump in this amount of money? I certainly share the sentiment of the puzzled minister.

DAP supports all efforts to make agriculture the third engine of growth for the country. Before the minister embarks on his mega plans, here are some suggestions for the minister to help improve agricultural production and quality of life for the farmers with little or no additional capital investment. All these suggestions need immediate attention of the minister.

1.        Help legalise farmlands and allocate new lands for the farmers. With the legalised status, the farmers will then have peace of mind to invest more money and energy into their farmlands to improve production and quality. Modern day farming needs a large capital investment. At the moment, most of the state governments refuse to legalise farmlands, and they seldom allocate land for farming and agriculture. How do we encourage the locals to go into the agricultural sector if the government continue to limit the allocation of lands?

2.        Direct diesel agents to sell the fuel directly to fishermen without going through middlemen.
Take the case of Pantai Remis in Perak. 80% of the fishermen here were now unable to go out to the sea to do fishing due to the unbearable high price of diesel. Those who went out risk losing money if they were not lucky enough to haul in bigger harvest. The price of diesel has gone up to more than RM1.26 per liter as compared to around 77 sen per liter in the previous years. Recently, the price of seafood has gone up by 50% to 100% but not to the benefit of the fishermen.

3.        Allow padi farmers in Sekinchan and Perak to plant fragrant rice.
The Sekinchan farmers have successfully planted fragrant rice, but they were banned by the Agriculture Ministry to do so. Such ruling is totally unfair to the farmers and the ban has prevented the farmers from improving their earnings and quality of life.

4.        Negotiate with Bernas to set a fairer price structure for local padi farmers.
Also in Sekinchan, the farmers have to sell their padi to Bernas, but they have been deprived of a fairer price structure ever since the privatisation of Lembaga Padi Nasional to Bernas.

5.        Allow farmers to employ legal foreign workers
. Farming is considered a dirty and difficult job by the locals. Farmers have no choice but to employ foreign workers to help them from planting to harvesting. The farmers will certainly be able to increase production with the help of legal foreign workers. The price of vegetables has gone up by 50% but the farmers have not benefited from the price increase.

6.        Reopen the Bukit Pelanduk pig farms in Negeri Sembilan
. The menacing nipah viruses have gone long ago. The reopening of Bukit Pelanduk pig farms is long overdue. Has the government leaders totally forgotten about their election pledges and commitment to the people?


* Ronnie Liu Tian Khiew, DAP International Secretary and NGO bureau chief