We produce our own rice, mainly from our 'rice bowl' State of Kedah. There are padi fields everywhere. During my school days, I enjoyed helping my parents, my grandparents and the other relatives in the padi field - from planting to harvesting.
However, modernisation has lured the youth to the cities, leaving only the old folks to attend to the padi field. And many years later, I can only hide the frustration to see the padi fields became small jungles where monkeys and other creatures dwell. Not only in my kampung in Malacca but also in many parts of the country.
As urbanisation, market capitalism and industrialisation took away much of the padi fields, we began to import it, not in small volume but quite significant. It costs the country billion of ringgit to import rice from some countries like Thailand, Cambodia, India and others.
And as such, more padi fields are turning to jungle.
Personally, I was elated with a news from Manila yesterday that the Philippines will reach its self-sufficiency in rice production in a year or two. President Aquino was all proud in making that announcement, and so were the 94 million Filipinos.
It means the republic will be able to save about USD1.3 billion a year in rice import, and such an amount can instead be utilised for other development projects. I admire what the country is doing in order to stop its dependency on imported rice.
So, how about us? We import more and more rice. Local production is not enough to support the ever-increasing demand while the quality of local rice (admit it!) is still below satisfactory. What is lacking in us as compared to Thai or Cambodian rice? We share the same climate, similar soil and more or less the same fertilizer.
After 'Malinja' and 'Mahsuri', did we produce any other hybrid? And what happens to the research conducted by our genius, scientists and professors at UPM, USM, Mardi, Fama and the rest.
We keep on reading about their achievement of 'winning so many trophies' in innovation competition abroad - golden award in farming, technology, etc. However, we failed to apply it to our own good. Our research is only for competition.
Fifty-four years after Independence, we still cannot improve our rice production by one per cent a year. Had we started back some 20 years ago, our local production could by now exceeds 60 per cent or 70 per cent, and much money can be saved.
It was quite recently that one of our ministers announced that our rice supply is sufficient, and that the major flood in Thailand will not force up the price of the commodity. However, the FAO issued warning late last month that rice price could go up by 10 per cent to 20 per cent due to reduced in production in Thailand and other exporting countries.
The shortage pushed up benchmark rice prices to a three-year high of $650 a tonne last month, triggering fears of a spike in food inflation in Asia.
The rice market saw its last big rally during the 2007-2008 crisis, when the commodity changed hands at more than $1,000 a tonne after key producers such as India, Vietnam, China and Egypt imposed export bans while importers, particularly in the Middle East, hoarded supplies. Before the crisis, rice traded at $200-$400.
And global rice prices may move up further in the next few months as flooding in Thailand continues to affect the crop and damage existing inventories.
Importers are looking for alternative supply, but the perception gaining ground is that despite cheaper rice available from sources such as India and Pakistan, they won't be able to do without any supply from Thailand and Vietnam. The two control more than half of the rice moving in global trade, which amounts to around 32 million tons a year.
Vietnamese prices have moved up in tandem with Thailand's, hitting three-year highs with more expected. The price for a ton of Thai 5 per cent broken grade rice, currently about $600, free-on-board—up 20 per cent since the start of the second quarter—is forecast to hit $700 to $800 by the end of the year.So, until when will Malaysia stop importing or at least reduce it's import volume?
Some people make a simple conclusion - if we don't import, some senior politicians and government servants will not make that 'extra' income... is it true? I believe there are some truths in it. How about you, readers?