Update (22 Jun 2011):
Online news portal, Free Malaysia Today, used the information from this blog entry in their article “Tambatuon dam is unnecessary” (published Jun 14, 2011). Journalist, Stephanie Sta Maria, also conducted an interview with me regarding my views on rice production in Malaysia.
After having read Asian Geographic’s excellent rice edition (No. 74, Issue 5, 2010), I decided to download and analyze the freely available data on rice from FAO‘s website. I was particularly curious to see the latest rice statistics for Malaysia, and how Malaysia’s rice production stands against that from some countries as well as against the world as a whole.
I was also curious to see how far Malaysia has to increase its rice production to meet the government’s target for full self-sufficiency in rice by 2015. The government’s decision to achieve 100% self-sufficiency in rice is probably due to the height of the world food crisis in June 2008, where Malaysia suddenly found itself unable to guarantee sufficient rice for the nation in the following three months in mid 2008. Rice-exporting countries like Thailand, Viet Nam, and India either banned or limited their rice exports during the food crisis, so Malaysia unexpectedly found no one from whom to buy rice. In other words, the food crisis exposed Malaysia’s persistent and increasing food insecurity problem.
Recently, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry of Malaysia, Datuk Wira Mohd Johari Baharum, remarked that Malaysia could achieve 100% self-sufficiency in rice if Malaysia’s two major rice areas (MADA and KADA) increase their rice yields by between 5 to 10%. It is uncertain whether the Deputy Minister meant 5 to 10% increase in rice yields per year or over the five years. If the latter, then 5 to 10% increase over the five years appears much too low, considering that Malaysia is currently only 72% self-sufficient in rice and has until 2015 (i.e., five years away) to achieve 100% self-sufficiency.
With these questions in mind, I decided to be detective. In 2008, the world’s total production of rice stood at 685.0 million tonnes, increasing at a rate of 9.5 million tonnes per year.
Countries in the league of top ten largest producers of rice are as follows: 1. China (194.3 million tonnes), 2. India (148.3), 3. Indonesia (60.3), 4. Bangladesh (46.9), 5. Viet Nam (38.7), 6. Myanmar (30.5), 7. Thailand (30.5), 8. Philippines (16.8), 9. Brazil (12.1), and 10. Japan (11.0). Lying in the 25-th place is Malaysia with a total rice production of 2.4 million tonnes. Both China and India are, by far, the two largest producers of rice, producing half of the world’s rice.
What about rice productivity? Most people would probably not know that Australia is the world’s most efficient producer of rice, producing an average of 8.7 tonnes of rice per hectare per year from 2000-08, followed by Japan (6.4) and China (6.3). Malaysia’s mean rice productivity, though increasing each year, is only 3.3 ton/ha per year. Malaysia’s productivity is lower than that for Viet Nam (4.7), Indonesia (4.6) and Philippines (3.5), but higher than that for India (3.1) and Thailand (2.8). Even though, Australia is the most efficient rice producer in the world, its productivity fluctuates widely year-on-year. This is probably due to the frequent water shortages (i.e., droughts) in Australia. Japan also sees a large annual variation in its rice productivity but this variation is much less than that for Australia. China’s rice productivity, however, is a rapid and steady increase throughout the years, from a low 2.1 ton/ha in 1961 to 6.6 ton/ha in 2008.
Malaysia’s land area for rice remained fairly constant at no more than 0.7 million hectares since the1980s. Even though the land area for rice has remained rather constant, Malaysia’s rice productivity increases every year from 2.1 ton/ha in 1961 to 3.6 ton/ha in 2008. Thus, Malaysia’s total rice production would also increase each year. Since 1985, Malaysia sees an average increase in total rice production of about 28,000 tonnes per year.
Now, the bad news. Although Malaysia’s rice production and productivity increase each year, Malaysia’s rice yield per capita (per person) declines each year. From a high of 174.6 kg of rice per capita in 1974, rice yield per capita has since fallen steadily, falling to 86.0 kg of rice per capita in 2008.
If Malaysia is to be 100% self-sufficient in rice by 2015, I estimate that the rice yield per capita must increase to at least 106 kg of rice per capita by 2015. I got this value by taking into account past trends in rice production, rice productivity, and self-sufficiency levels, as well as Malaysia’s expected population, eating habits, and prosperity level by 2015.
So, assuming no change in land area for rice (which essentially has not changed since the 1980s), Malaysia must achieve the following rice yields to reach 106 kg of rice per capita by 2015; thus, becoming 100% self-sufficient in rice:
- Total rice production by 2015: 3.3 mil. ton (40% increase from 2.4 mil. ton in 2008)
- Rice productivity by 2015: 5.0 ton/ha (40% increase from 3.6 ton/ha in 2008)
To obtain this target of 3.3 mil. ton of rice (and the corresponding 5.0 ton/ha of rice) by 2015, Malaysia’s rice productivity must increase by at least 4.9% per year. So, Deputy Minister Datuk Wira Mohd Johari Baharum is correct if he meant that MADA and KADA (I like to include all rice producing areas in Malaysia) must increase their rice yields by 5 to 10% per year (and not 5-10% increase over five years).
Currently, Malaysia’s rice productivity increases only by an average of 2.0% per year, not the required 4.9% per year. At this current level, Malaysia will only hit 2.6 million tonnes of rice in 2015, a rice productivity of 3.8 ton/ha, and a rice yield per capita of 82.3 kg per capita. All this translates to an expected self-sufficiency level of only 78% in 2015. Conclusion: objective not achieved.
However, even at 2.0% increase in rice productivity per year, it is still possible to achieve 100% self-sufficiency in rice, provided that the land area for rice in 2008 increases by more than 70% to reach 1.14 mil. ha in 2015. In other words, more than 436,000 ha of new land area must be found for rice fields. In 2008, the Malaysian government mentioned about plans to open 100,000 ha of new land area for rice fields, but this figure is only one-fifth of what is required. Again, objective not achieved.
I am not sure why the Malaysian government put 2015 as the year to achieve 100% self-sufficiency. It is way too early, considering current trends. Moreover, rice production is heavily subsidized by the government, and with the government now trying to reduce their subsidies, it is difficult to see more rice fields opening up in Malaysia.
So, unless there is a major concentration of investment, research, and effort in next five years by the government, it is very unlikely that Malaysia would be 100% self-sufficient in rice by 2015 or thereabouts.