By Mohamed Azmi Mohd Rasheed Khan, Head Corporate Services Division, Institut Masa Depan Malaysia
Questions are being raised about the effectiveness of the Agriculture and Food Security Ministry, along with the Economy Ministry, in managing the ongoing rice shortage in Malaysia which is worsening due to skyrocketing prices and bare shelves in the local market.
The reality on the ground paints a gloomy picture despite repeated assurances from the authorities.
Malaysians are literally struggling to put rice on their tables, made worse by what seems to be a lacklustre response from the present government.
The apparent failure to anticipate and prepare for rice shortage is among the slew of criticisms hurled against the government.
We acknowledge that external factors like the conflicts in Russia and Ukraine and escalating logistical costs had an impact on food prices globally, but the government ought to have been more prepared.
Malaysia’s overreliance on rice imports is an obvious problem. Reports claim that the nation only currently produces about 70 percent of the rice required for domestic consumption.
B40, M40 hit the hardest
As a result, Malaysia is dependent on imports for the remaining 30 percent, making it susceptible to changes in the price of rice internationally.
The B40 and M40 groups are being hit the hardest by price increases, making it more difficult for them to afford this essential item.
Although Economy Minister Rafizi Ramli said that Malaysians are dependent on eating out as a result of prior policies, it is crucial to understand that many people cannot afford to cook at home due to the rising costs of ingredients.
It is really disappointing to see Malaysia, which has fertile land and a climate that is conducive to agriculture, is struggling to lessen its reliance on rice imports.
The government ought to have drawn inspiration from other countries like Vietnam, which has gone from being a net importer of rice to one of those major exporters.
The apparent lack of coordination between ministries is among the most worrying aspects.
The reality on the ground contradicts the Agriculture and Food Security Ministry’s assertion that it is not urgent to use the government’s 250,000 tonnes of rice stockpile. Prices are rising while the shelves are still empty.
Confusion and annoyance among the populace are also being brought on by the government’s lack of clarity in communication.
When the government maintains there is no urgent need to use the rice stockpile, people are left wondering why they are experiencing shortages and high prices.
Additionally, it is evident that the crisis-relief measures such as the Local White Rice Special Programme and the Rahmah sales for rice, are knee-jerk responses to a situation that should have been anticipated and proactively managed.
The welfare of the populace ought to be the government’s top priority, even though we recognise that managing the economy is a difficult task.
When it comes to ensuring food security, Malaysians deserve a more effective and well-coordinated response from their leaders, not just rhetorical answers in Parliament!