KUALA LUMPUR, June 5 — Smallholding rice growers, many of them poor, have again called for an urgent reform of the government’s national paddy policy following piles of complaints that state-picked companies are still handing out poor-quality seeds, even as they enjoy millions of ringgit in taxpayers subsidies.
PeSawah, the association representing paddy farmers, said rice growers from Penang, Kedah, and Negeri Sembilan have lodged complaints about seeds that were either badly damaged or wouldn’t grow, which could potentially lower yields and affect income for families that are already struggling to cope with living cost pressure.
“For your information, this isn’t the first case, various parties including PeSawah have highlighted the problem of the poor quality of these paddy seeds supplied by these selected companies for the last four years,” said Abdul Rashid Yob, one of the group’s executive committee members, in a statement.
“Apart from the poor quality of seeds we’ve faced other problems such as inadequate supply and exploitative pricing. How many more complaints must we farmers lodge, it’s as if they’re ignoring us.”
He alleged it is a problem that has dragged on for years because suppliers are the benefactors of a licensing and quota system that chose them based on patronage, ultimately guaranteeing them “millions of ringgit in subsidies” even if the quality of seeds they supply is poor.
Rice is a staple food among Malaysians, making it one of the most important food crops in the country.
Still, local growers can produce just up to 65 per cent of the rice supply needed to meet local demand, relying on imports from countries like Thailand and Vietnam to make up the shortfall.
Because of this, rice production continues to operate under a largely protected system that is meant to keep prices “stable”, which policy analysts said has placed nearly the entire rice production chain, including rice milling and provisions of inputs for growing like pesticides, seeds and fertilisers, under the control of just several companies.
These companies receive millions of ringgit in yearly subsidies meant to absorb the cost of inputs. Padiberas Nasional Berhad, a former state-turned-private enterprise that currently controls up to two-thirds of the rice supply market, said up to 12.5 per cent of the annual federal budget goes into subsidising rice production.
Abdul Rashid said this could be one of the factors that make suppliers feel they are insulated from scrutiny.
“We are convinced this lackadaisical attitude of the seed suppliers who care little about the fate of poor farmers is because of this licensing and quota system whereby at every season they are easily guaranteed millions of ringgit in profits from government subsidies that go straight into their coffers,” he said.
“This means regardless if the quality of seeds they supply are poor or good they still get to claim subsidies. This is further enabled by poor enforcement and monitoring.”
Today’s statement came as farmers have for years tried to push for the government to abolish the limited licensing system so the supply of paddy seeds can be opened up.
Abdul Rashid said PeSawah’s members also want regulators to allow seed sharing, a progressive idea pushed by grassroots groups worldwide because it helps promote genetic diversity, maintain the quality of crops, helps cut the cost of seeds for farmers and increase their access to a wider variety of other crops.
“And we want the subsidies for paddy seeds to be channelled directly towards farmers too,” he added.
“This way farmers will have more options and there can be competition that acts as assurance of quality and price.”