Bringing glory to agri — Rais Hussin

SEPTEMBER 10 — History, in most forms, has been taught in a linear manner. Whether one is taking A levels or International Baccalaureate (IB), it is assumed that the history of mankind, in future, will progress, rather than regress.

To the degree the latter may happen, the syllabus of the schools the world over often cast this in the form of cataclysmic wars, climate change and an over dose in consumerism. These 3Cs, in other words, will cause a collapse in major societies. But if the 3Cs do not happen in their fullest forms, human societies will continue to progress.

In this context, Malaysia has neglected the importance of agriculture. Agriculture is seen as an industry that can drag the country backward.

Yet agriculture is not only the back bone of food safety, security and sovereignty, which can stabilise the prices of Malaysia, the sector does not necessarily have to be looked down, as something regressive.

In Japan, while 8 per cent of its land is arable, it has utilised every form of technology to become food sufficient. Thus the Japanese has gone into hydroponic farming in a big way.

Water is recycled go allow fruits and vegetables to grow in vertically built environment or green houses; which do not emit CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) in undue amount to trigger climate change.

In the United States, had it not for the Sino-US trade war, the agricultural industries there is one of the biggest in the world, supplying food, both to the United States and China, if not the larger world. Be it soybean, rapeseed or potato, the US is in the lead; as indeed European Union (EU) is the same.

Northern Ireland, for example, understands the importance of rapeseed and soy bean, and has lobbied hard to stay within the European Union to benefit from the Common Agricultural Policy of EU where Ireland is entitled to its generous subsidy.

In Italy, while the south may remain poorer than the north, it is the south that is focused on driving the grapevines in Italy, allowing Italian brewery to have a steady supply of red wine to spur their economies.

Had it not for the ageing process that is in grip of Italy, where Italy is the third fastest ageing societies after South Korea and Japan, the government in Rome would do just as well by focusing on the importance of agriculture.

Instead, Italy is roiled by political instability and turbulence over the last three decade, recording the most number of collapses in their coalition government; despite being a member of the Group of 7.

Malaysia needs to take heed of the view of Deputy Agriculture Minister Sim Tze Sin who has pointed out many serious problems with an excessive focus on the plantation of palm oil. Now that India and China are not buying as much palm oil from Malaysia, the prices of palm oil have reached a plateau.

But Sim has correctly pointed that the world's population will grow to nine billion by 2050. Malaysia can use the remaining land to focus on supplying food, both to itself, and selling them to countries that need them. A strategic partnership can be built with Japan too, where their hydroponic farming, can be built in Malaysia, creating a win win outcome for the two countries.

In fact, in light of the desertification of China, due to extensive use of its land over the last forty years, China itself is in need of more food and fruits from Malaysia. The late Professor Khoo Kay Kim once said that if only Malaysia knows how to apply more food products to China, our economic growth would be secured.

Khoo was not referring to China's addiction to our durians but papayas, mangoes, pineapple, tapioca and if need be even bird's nest; all of which are the best in the world.

Our youth need to understand that Malaysia is a blessed agricultural land. As and when they combine agricultural sciences with proper soil studies, and the riverine systems, that are both man made and natural, they stand the highest chance to transform their investments in agriculture into serious commercial endeavours.

Achieving the latter, however, requires the top echelons of the government to re-emphasize the strategic importance of agriculture. Students in Malaysia should not be told that industrialisation is the only way out to eradicate poverty. Rather when a country is sufficient in it's food safety, security and sovereignty, as Japan did, that country can overcome many adversities, and become a fully developed economy too.

With growing underemployment and unemployment amongst youth, nearing more than half a million, RM51 billion annual food imports, and vast fertile ground that Malaysia has, it is not rocket science to put all those variable in its place.

Bringing glory to agri, like many Scandinavian countries have done, Malaysia can productively employ its youth resources and land as a way to reduce food imports (import substitution) and gradually increase food safety, security and sovereignty.

If one looks at the staggering statistics of our food imports, the immediate question would be what happened if their is going to be an air, land and maritime blockade ? Will Malaysia be able to feed its 32 million population? For how long? Think and reflect!

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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