Will Malaysia achieve 100% self-sufficiency in rice by 2015?

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.

Rice plant (photo from emum55.blogspot.com/2008/08/ong-seng-choo-holdings-sdn-bhd.html)



  1. Dear Doc,
    Just curious as a matter of trade policy, principally with Thailand & ASEAN in general, is achieving 100% SSL in rice a right “slogan” at all?



    • Many countries today including Malaysia depend very strongly on international trade for food because no country can plant everything and even if that was possible, some food are produced cheaper overseas than in the country. So, there is a trade-off between food security (growing them ourselves) and food trade (depending on others to grow them for us). Unfortunately, growing rice in Malaysia is not as cheap as overseas, but we are still maintaining the same rice acreage because we want to ensure our food security (i.e., depend less on others for our food).

  2. Tthanks what a wonderful research work you done more grease to your elbow ,can improve variety help in achieving this goal goal by the year 2015. Thanks.

  3. Interesting article and analyses.

    I just wonder about the yield per ha per annum figures presented. I am aware that in MADA the yield is about 5 y/ha per season. So if it is 2 cropping season per year then the yield per ha per annum would be 10 t/ha i.e if we assume all practise double cropping.

    If in Sekinchan the yield per ha per seaon is 10 t then the annual yield per ha will be 20t.

    In some areas the yield are lower and if your average yield figure of 3.3 t/ha is correct then the yield in many other rice areas in Malaysia must be very low to pull the average figure down by so much.

    Australia is a country with much less rainfall than Malaysia and yet the yield is so high considering that rice cultivation requires a lot of water. That their yield fluctuates drastically from year to year probably points to the fluctuation in water availability from year to year. I gathered from a talk on water resources management in Australia that the farmers there practise water rights trading and in a year when the farmer feels that he cannot get a good harvest due to water shortage then he sells his water rights to another farmer growing less water demanding crops i.e. the farmer reckons that he gets more from selling his water rights then trying to grow rice in water stress situation.

    • 5 t/ha or 10 t/ha measures the yield productivity over one growing season, not the total yield production over one or more growing seasons. Yes, the more times in a year the farmers grow rice, the higher the total production per annum, but the yield productivity remains the same. One hectare of land can only produce so much yield. We cannot increase its productivity simply by planting more frequently. That one hectare would still give you the same yield. The total yield has increased — not because the land’s productivity has increased — but because you have used the land more frequently for growing crops.

      You are correct to say that some areas in Malaysia are high-producing rice areas, whereas others are depressed. On average, the rice productivity in Malaysia is below 4 t/ha. There are several reasons for the depressed yields in some areas: one of which is the farmers themselves. Other reasons are poor irrigation infrastructure and problems of pests and diseases.

      • If the figure of less than 4 tonnes /ha is the current average annual yield for Malaysia then it is very low compared to the extremely high productivity of Sekinchan which is said to be 10 tonnes/ha per season and if we consider double cropping the per annum productivity would be 20 tonnes per ha (this is 5 times the average yield!). The prospect of achieving self sufficiency by increasing productivity of existing schemes becomes quite achievable.

  4. Hi, I have to say this is an excellent article, with great structure and clear logic.

    I’m a college student who’s going to participate in a model APEC conference in a few weeks. I will represent Malaysia, discussing food security issues with other economies such as vietnam, China, Canada, Australia, and the Philippines. I came across your article while I was doing my research and I have to say I benefited a lot from your analytical article, which summarized the huge amount of information I’ve been exposed to during my research period.

    However, I’d like to know more (if it’s not too troublesome for you to answer, of course) about the most urgent problems of food security that Malaysia is facing, and also, the possibilities of future cooperation with other Asia-Pacific economies on this issue. For example, according to your article, I get to know that Malaysia has significant low rice productivity compared with another asia-pacific country, Australia. So maybe there’s a chance for both countries to work on productivity improvement in the future.

    Thank you again for this great piece of brain work.

    • I am glad you found my article useful in your assignment. The most urgent problem about Malaysia’s food security is increasing food import bill every year. In other words, we buy increasingly more food. Why? This is because Malaysia’s economy is export-based. Malaysia does something that can be sold (exported). Oil palm is very profitable, so our energies are towards this crop. There’s nothing wrong on depending on world trade to buy our food, but it relies on market forces for food supply. In short, we depend on others to feed us.

  5. Dear Dr.,
    I’m the new teaching assistant for PRT2008. I am currently collecting all the materials needed to assist both lecturers and students for this course. The materials may include videos, articles, data, thoughts and pictures. I just want to ask your permission to use some of the information and articles from this blog for that purpose. I personally enjoy reading your blog and some thoughts are very informative. If possible, how can i get the printable or much ‘reader-friendly’ version of some of your thoughts Dr?

    Thank you in advance.

  6. i think the other problem is irrigation, most of paddy field can get the water but cannot flow out the water. another case is cannot get enough water.

    • No, livestock and fish feed used in Malaysia are mostly made from maize. Rice in Malaysia is used mostly for human consumption, as we only about 70+ per cent self sufficient in rice.

  7. I just want to know what type of grade that we are going to produce, as in the local market the padi to me is of no quality. Please do not mention we that are going to no 1 producer as they mention about Rubber in the Sun on 10/11/2011. you mention about the Korean, do you all know that the Korean
    are very particular with what they consumed. Beef meat must not smell,pig that is pork is the same must not smell.Learn more about people than their needs.We Malaysian always jump to conclusion without understanding the nation and the people.

    • Thank you for your visit and comment. I am unsure what exactly is your question. Are you saying that Malaysia should improve their rice quality first then worry about self sufficiency later? Please note that this blog article is about increasing rice production until we achieve 100% self sufficiency in rice, not about being no. 1 rice producer in the world (that honour belongs to China and India, both countries producing half of the world’s rice).

  8. My last visit to Korea in mid-90s was truly opened my eyes on how Koreans make use of every single inch of their land for rice cultivation.

    The garden of the hotel I stayed was planted with paddy, not flowers as we seen every where and the vacant land between highways all were fully utilized for paddy field.

    Besides, the taste and texture of Korea rice is superb, much better than Siamese rice.

    • Thank you for your visit and comments. I have not been to Korea, but I can understand the importance of rice to countries such as Korea. In Malaysia, rice production is heavily subsidized, so it actually discourages more rice planting because more subsidies have to be given. Shortage of rice farmers makes the problem worse as well. Consequently, Malaysia depends on trade to obtain the rice we cannot plant. This does solve one problem but create another problem — reliance on others to feed us.

  9. Hi,

    This is fascinating. I have also read somewhere that Malaysia’s average cost of production is higher than the market price of rice, so if we ignore self-sufficiency, most Malaysian farmers should not be producing rice!

    I am interested to learn more about the economics of rice production. Can someone here please point me to a good academic paper/source where I can understand the production costs (labor, fertilizer, etc), milling costs, and distribution costs?

    Thanks much,

  10. My experiment in Sekinchan has just concluded. We just managed to maintain yield at and around 10 t/ha while across the board others suffered a reduction of 1 to 2 t/ha.

    Sad to say that, all the common diseases like Blast, Collar Rot Blast, Sheath Blight, Panicle Blight and Kernel Smut were found in Sekinchan paddy fields, however, we don’t see any action from the MOA.

  11. I have a similar blog where I play with FAO.org numbers.
    I wonder how Burma manages to produce 609 kg of rice per person? Its not like they got a ton of money to subsidize their farmers

    • Thanks for your input. I’ve checked your blog and I want to congratulate you on a useful information. I’m not sure about the amount of subsidy Burma rice farmers get, but the total land area for rice there is large though the yield per hectare is low.

  12. Hi, great article ! I like to share my views

    I was told that in peninsular Malaysia about 30 % of rice is imported and 70 % is self produced , however situation in east Malaysia is different . Despite the mass land available and long known agriculture community , Sabah is importing 70 % rice and produce only less than 30% . Much paddy fields are left barren , or make way for oil palm plantation or development projects which offers better income for the farmers .

    I believe in a way to improve the nation’s living quality and income is to reduce food price by increasing production , reducing need to import which not only cuts down on expenses but also reduces carbon emission.

    Imagine , one day you don’t have to pay expensive food or high price food. Then we will be able to enjoy the better parts of living .

    • Thank you for your input. Malaysia’s economy is very much export-driven. This means we tend to grow crops that is profitable and can be exported. Hence, the popularity of oil palm in Malaysia. Rice crop, though important, is heavily subsidised, so Malaysia relies on trade to get our rice. From an economic point of view, this is justified. Why grow something that is less profitable than other crops or grow crops that, without any subsidy, is non-profitable? Ironically, some of the imported goods are cheaper than those locally made in Malaysia. But heavy reliance on trade can be risky. Malaysia’s food security is threatened when countries refused to sell us their rice, for example. No country can be self sufficient in all foods. Countries still have to rely on trade for some food items.

  13. Dr., a Taiwanese researcher claims to increase rice production by minimum 30%. I have started working with him with the hope that Malaysia will achieve its 100% self sufficiency.
    In fact, based on what Sekinchan farmers do and achieved all these years, we should have long ago achieved our national goal of self sufficiency without much fuss.

  14. I would not agree with opening up more land to cultivate rice. Instead, we can increase yields on existing acreage. By this, we can also increase farmers’ income to offset the price rise of materials.

    • The government is trying to reduce their subsidies which include those for rice farming. Our country’s economy is based very strongly on exports and trade. Activities such as rice is very dependent on government subsidies and without them, rice farming would probably fail. So our best option is to increase yield per acreage rather than giving more subsidies.

  15. Good article. Very factual. You did not add in about rice productivity in different areas are totally different. What I mean is this – the Malay rice-producing areas are generally low yield while the non-bumi rice producers have higher yields. And yet – the schemes and subsidies goes to the M’s which I believe is because of politics.

    Another issue becomes racial – the non-bumi farmers are being squeezed of land (denied farming land). If only there is a FELDA scheme for non-bumis – Malaysia is guaranteed to be self-sufficient in everything from rice to vegetables to meat and will be able to export fruits like Thailand.

    By the way, I have visited the the rice terraces in the Cordilerras (Luzon). They do most of their farming by manual labour. Pretty amazing place.

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