KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 11 — Adopting more technologically advanced methods is necessary for Malaysia to take agriculture to the next level and secure self-sustainability in its food supply, former finance minister Tun Daim Zainuddin wrote today.
The adviser to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said one of the top concerns for the country was securing an uninterrupted supply of water to irrigate its fields.
In a column published today in local financial paper The Edge, Daim highlighted that the agriculture sector is the single biggest user of national water resources, noting that many farmers in rural Malaysia were still adopting traditional methods or had infrastructural access that limited their harvests.
He suggested the best way to ensure sufficient supply was to update the technology for advance-planning and push for further research while reducing water use.
“Water is essential for citizens’ daily life, for manufacturing, for tourism, for businesses and, of course, for agriculture. We experienced many water cuts last year and, of course, in pockets of Malaysia, particularly for rural and indigenous communities, many still do not have consistent access to clean water,” he wrote, calling for change.
He also said the adoption of technology will also improve Malaysia’s efforts to protect its natural biodiversity.
As example, he spoke of the practice of monocropping, where a single crop type is grown year after year on the same land, leads to its massive loss as large tracts of forest land is cleared, burnt or pillaged to obtain its products or to plant new crops.
“What we must bear in mind is that plenty of agricultural land is already available and both federal and state governments must make it easier to access designated agricultural land. No further forest land should be cleared for the purpose of agriculture.
“In fact, there should be a clear plan for reforestation and restoration of agricultural land that is no longer productive. Forests are important carbon sinks and Malaysia as a megadiverse nation must have clear guidelines on sustainable practices to protect this natural resource,” he said.
Daim recommended the gazetting of rainforest and peatland areas, adding that access to readily-available agricultural land should also be made easier and less complicated for those who wish to work it.
“There are already various policies and guidelines in place, but implementation will require further cooperation between the various agencies and ministries involved,” Daim said.
The Kedahan also suggested that carbon farming, or the process of changing agricultural practices or land use to increase the amount of carbon stored in the soil and vegetation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from livestock, soil and vegetation, ought to be looked into since it could end up as the industry of the future,
“Carbon farming potentially offers landowners and farmers financial incentives to reduce carbon pollution. For example, Australian carbon farmers are now earning income for cutting greenhouse gas emissions or sequestering carbon.
“The Australian government has created the Emission Reduction Fund to provide businesses with the opportunity to earn Australian carbon credit units for every tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent a business stores or avoids emitting through adopting new practices and technologies. In the private sector, a United States-based start-up is also offering financial incentives of US$15 per tonne of carbon dioxide sequestered,” he said.
Daim said farmers can earn extra income from carbon farming and will also discover other additional benefits from the process, including water and biodiversity management, better animal production, and improved soil health.
“Carbon farming is under the umbrella of regenerative farming, which also includes practices such as agroforestry, crop rotation, permaculture and the principles of holistic agriculture management.
“These practices are intertwined and should be studied in the context of the Malaysian agricultural industry to ensure that the best practices are implemented here, for the benefit of our farmers and Malaysians as a whole,” he said.
The convolution of the agriculture sector is another problem, as Daim said it is difficult for aspiring young farmers to break into the sector without experience and contacts.
“I hope the relevant authorities will review their practices to ensure a simpler and more efficient process. Sometimes people tend to forget that time is also a resource, and agriculture in Malaysia currently demands far too much time to jump through various hoops.
“On the commercial side farmers big and small will need to embrace a change in techniques and learn new things. Traditional knowledge is of course still important and practitioners should find a way to create synergy between old and new techniques to get the best out of them,” he said, urging for technology to be embraced or be left behind as a result.
Daim also touted coconut as the next cash crop, noting its ranking as the fourth most important industrial crop after oil palm, rubber and rice.
“As I highlighted before, coconut can be used in food and beverages, beauty products, handicraft, health products and others.
“Even the leaves, lidi, shell, and coconut fibre are in demand. Then, there is a new variety of dwarf coconut that produces more coconuts in a shorter period,” he said.
He noted that Malaysia is among the world top 10 coconut producing countries.
He stressed the importance for Malaysia to diversify its crops to avoid national dependency on any one single crop to drive its economy.
“What the entire industry should be doing, regardless of whether it is commodities agriculture or agri-food production, is to be continually innovating and improving such that less and less resources are required and less waste is produced,” he said.