Long-term solutions to chicken price woes

ONE long-term solution mentioned in Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s statement after the May 23 cabinet meeting to discuss solutions to the shortage of chicken in the country was that Malaysia needs to be self-sufficient in producing chicken feed.

This will reduce the hefty cost of poultry farming in light of the high cost of fertiliser and wheat, and the vulnerability of imports to currency fluctuations 

The Agriculture and Food Industries Ministry (Mafi) and Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry have been tasked to present plans on the proposal for the cultivation of corn and the use of palm kernel cake as chicken feed alternatives.

In response to this, the Kelantan government is ready to cultivate corn as a long-term alternative to poultry feed.

Kelantan Agriculture, Agro-based Industry, Biotechnology, Green Technology and Environment Committee chairman Tuan Mohd Saripudin Tuan Ismail is reported to have said several corn varieties of the cereal crop for animal feed planted in Bachok four years ago had been proven to have high yield, but the programme was stopped due to the lack of market demand at the time.

“In the past, we planted corn grain to be processed as animal feed, including as chicken feed, but it had to be replaced with sweet corn, pearl corn and fat corn because grain corn was less popular in the market at the time.

“Now the government is ready to convert the existing maize crop to grain maize to be processed into food for livestock. The state government and farmers are ready to work together for the development of animal feed that can be done on a large scale, including on abandoned agricultural lands,” he was quoted as saying.

The farmers need support from the federal government through incentives and subsidies related to fertilisers and pesticides because they are burdened with a double increase in the price of the planting material and need to ensure that it can be sold, such as via contract agreements with relevant parties, he added.

Also, the state government is working to increase its maize yield in Jeli, from one million crops to 10 million.

“Kelantan also has maize crops of these types in Lojing, Gua Musang, Tanah Merah and Bachok, which can be used as animal feed based on a study. It’s just that the corn needs to go through a drying process and be crushed as well as added with ingredients such as soy to increase nutrition to be given to livestock,” he said.

On May 23, the cabinet had asked state governments, government agencies and government-linked companies to grant Temporary Occupancy Licences to farmers so they can cultivate maize as poultry feed.

The cabinet also gave an immediate green light for cooperatives involved in the plantation sector to hire foreign workers, to overcome the current poultry shortage in the country.

The government’s move towards self sufficiency in animal feed was announced last month by the Agriculture and Food Industries Minister Ronald Kiandee when he said the government was formulating a policy to reduce dependence on animal feed imports by promoting grain corn farming. 

He announced 80,000ha nationwide will be used to plant grain corn by 2023, and that it encourages private large-scale farming of this crop.

It is unclear if this is linked to the Grain Corn Development Master Plan 2018-2032 launched by the government in 2016 with the aim of producing 30% of grain corn required for domestic consumption.

The government has grappled with the grain corn production issue since the 1980s when it was identified as a key vulnerability to the nation’s food security.

From 1989 to 1992, a commercial trial was conducted, but the yield was low compared to other crops such as oil palm and thus deemed unsustainable. The project was terminated in 1996.

In past years, Mafi has evaluated grain corn industries in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia and believes it can succeed this time by following these countries’ lead, according to the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi).

Indonesia produced 12 million metric tonnes of grain corn in 2020, followed by the Philippines (8 million metric tonnes), Thailand (5.5 million metric tonnes) and Vietnam (4.54 million metric tonnes).

In contrast, Malaysia produced 80,000 metric tonnes of corn, much of which was sweet corn not used for animal feed.

Under the 2016 master plan, the ministry aimed to open 30,000ha of land for grain corn farming in low humidity flatlands like in Chuping, Perlis; Seberang Prai, Penang; and Bachok, Kelantan, which was estimated to result in the production of 1.4 million metric tonnes of grain corn. 

A pilot project commenced in 2020, in which Mardi collaborated with the Indonesian Cereals Research Institute to share technology and hybrid seeds from 2018.

Mardi researchers said Indonesia’s grain production grew after it replicated and adapted what was being done in the United States, so Malaysia is learning from Indonesia and adapting these practices locally. 

“It is not too late to revitalise the corn industry and become one of the global grain corn players,” the researchers said.

On May 18, the Selangor and Negri Sembilan governments signed a memorandum of agreement to plant grain corn in Gemas and the Kuala Langat Selatan Forest Reserve.

RM3 million was allocated for the joint venture, involving 238.3ha of land, with land clearing expected to start in the third quarter of this year.

The project is expected to produce 5,490 tonnes of grain corn a year, with the aim of reducing import dependence by 2 to 3%.

Another long-term solution that needs to be thought of is the impact of climate change on farming, in which frequent unpredictable floods occur.

This is actually the province of the Environment Ministry where global warming has caused climate change with tragic consequences.

What Mafi can do is to come up with means for how animal feed farmers can be financially compensated when force majeure occurs, i.e. unforeseeable circumstances that prevent someone from fulfilling a contract.

Common examples of force majeure events include acts of war, terrorist attacks, epidemics, pandemics like Covid-19, death, labour strikes, riots, crime or property theft, natural disasters (like blizzards, earthquakes, or hurricanes), or acts of terrorism.

This can take the form of legislation for animal feed farmers to allocate a certain sum, with a ringgit-to-ringgit match by the government, so they can continue their farming operation after a certain force majeure occurs.

Or an insurance scheme against force majeure in which the annual premium is partly subsidised by the government.

Finally, in order to attract the participation of youth in this animal feed farming industry, the government has to make this industry more appealing and “sexy” to them by extensively introducing Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies in the industry. – May 30, 2022.

* Jamari Mohtar reads The Malaysian Insight.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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