KLANG – Initially, there was a limited supply of locally produced rice in supermarkets and grocery stores.
Now, that supply has dwindled to almost nothing, and is hitting consumers where it hurts the most – their pockets.
This drastic turn of events is forcing consumers to buy imported rice, which is more expensive than locally produced rice.
Grocery store owners and rice distributors say it has been some time since they last received stocks of the price-controlled, locally produced variety.
Mr C. Ramu, who owns and runs a grocery store in Taman Sri Andalas in Klang, Selangor, said that his three rice distributors have stopped sending him local rice.
“Two of them told me in early August that they cannot supply local rice any more and the third distributor gave me 20 bags in the middle of August and said that was all he had,” he said.
He is now receiving only imported rice, which retails at RM33 (S$9.60) for a 10kg bag, but his distributors have warned him that the price could soon increase.
“The price of imported rice is not controlled, so it can just spiral,” he said.
Rice distributor Osman Abdul Rahman said he has not received local rice from his main supplier since early August.
He said that he now has only imported rice, adding that such rice should make up only 30 per cent of what he sells, “with the remaining 70 per cent being rice produced by local farmers… That is how it was before”.
The general assumption about the shortage is that the demand for locally produced rice has surpassed the available supply, but padi farmers have a different story to tell.
Padi farmer Yap Kang Pua from Sekinchan town in Selangor said the shortage was due to a drastically reduced yield. He added that one of the reasons behind this was the dirty water used to irrigate padi fields.
“Our yield is very bad because we have to pump water from the nearby waterways into the fields, but the water from this source is contaminated,” he said, explaining that this caused many plants to die before reaching maturity.
He said that the problem of the shortage of clean water for the padi fields first took root almost a decade ago, and has escalated to the current situation.
He added that the only solution was for the relevant authorities to tap underground water and build a covered storage area for farmers to water their fields.
Another Sekinchan padi farmer, Mr Mohd Asri Badron, said that seeds given to farmers are of poor quality, causing them to succumb to diseases such as bacterial leaf streak disease (BLS), bacterial leaf blight (BLB) and bacterial panicle blight (BPB).
In comparison, the hybrid seeds used by farmers in most other regional rice-producing nations are “sturdier and can fight infection better”, he said. He expressed hope that these seeds could also be made available to Malaysian padi farmers.
To counter bacterial infection to increase yield, Mr Asri said, padi farmers must spend additional money to buy and use organic fertiliser and products to cultivate good bacteria. “Cultivating good bacteria to battle the destructive BLS, BLB or BPB can be helpful in increasing yield,” he added.
The president of the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations, Datuk Marimuthu Nadason, said the government must realise that rice is the main staple food in Malaysia.
“Since there is a shortage here, the government must source new markets so that Malaysia will have the bargaining power to negotiate better pricing,” he said, adding that Malaysia is importing rice from the same few markets and not shopping around for cheaper alternatives.
He also suggested that the government could expand padi cultivation by using available idle land to plant rice.
Sekinchan assemblyman and Selangor executive councillor Ng Suee Lim said the authorities must monitor the distribution chain because of suspicions that local rice is being packaged and sold as the imported variety.
“There is a syndicate behind this, and when they repackage local rice and sell it as an imported product, they will be selling it for between RM33 and RM35, which is higher than the RM26 price set for 10kg of local rice,” he said. THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK
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