Who’s profiting from higher food prices? Certainly not the rice farmers


Some people are making big bucks from the higher prices of food, including rice.

But not the farmers.

The Star (8 May) carried this tiny report on page 32 – it should have been front page headlines, Chun Wai! – telling of how over 2,000 rice farmers in the country’s “rice bowl” state of Kedah are now threatening to turn to oil palm cultivation because of the low price they are getting for their padi.

And who can blame them? Many of them are just hovering around the poverty line. The farmers want the padi price to be raised from the current ceiling of 65 sen/kg to RM1/kg. They complain that they have to sell their padi cheap, cheap but when they buy rice, the price is between RM2.20-2.80/kg. Where got meaning? (There’s no ceiling price for rice.)

“Farmers have to absorb the escalating costs of fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and seeds,” said Ramli Kasa, the Aman C-III Area Farmers Organisation chairman, in The Star report.

So it’s obviously not the farmers who are making big bucks. It has to be the parties in between the farmers and the consumers, right? And the speculators…

Meanwhile, Bernas, which was privatised in 1996, made a profit before tax of RM178 million for its 2006 financial year. Are you surprised? Bernas handles rice imports and local distribution.

Top 5 Shareholders (as of 19 April 2007)



No. of
Shares Held



Budaya Generasi (M) Sdn Bhd




HSBC Nominees (Asing) Sdn Bhd




Serba Etika Sdn Bhd




Lembaga Tabung Haji Sdn Bhd




AIBB Nominees (Tempatan) Sdn Bhd



Source: Bernas website

Budaya Generasi is controlled by Syed Mokhtar Al Bukhary.

And of course the share price of Bernas has been surging over the last year even as the rice farmers suffer. There is now talk that Bernas will be taken private. With rice prices surging, it’s a good time to ensure a monopoly of profits as well, eh?

See this Business Times report:

Bernas surges on talk it will be taken private

SHARES of the country’s only licensed rice supplier, Padiberas Nasional Bhd (Bernas), closed at their highest in more than two months yesterday on renewed speculation that it will be taken private.

The stock rose 2.4 per cent to close at RM2.13.

Budaya Generasi (M) Sdn Bhd, controlled by Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar Al Bukhary, holds 31 per cent of the company.

Other major shareholders like Wang Tak Co Ltd and Lembaga Tabung Haji have been raising their stake in Bernas over the last year or so.

Fund managers said the rumour of a buyout is not new.

“The share price has been rather firm these few weeks, bolstered by the continued purchase of the company’s stock by existing shareholders,” Philip Capital Management’s Ang Kok Heng said.

Actually, we have neglected our rice farmers for far too long. At one time, we were 90 per cent self sufficient.

Then along came Mahathir. He looked down on agriculture. Instead of ensuring that we could produce enough food to meet the needs of the population, he pursued heavy industrialisation – with all its attendant failures and shortcomings – like a man possessed. Under his administration, Universiti Pertanian Malaysian was changed to Universiti Putra Malaysia.

He was not alone. Many other Malaysians also felt we could always import cheaper rice – comparative advantage, they said, using an economic term; so why bother about food security and self-sufficiency? Today, such irresponsible neglect of agriculture has come back to haunt us with rising food prices.

The newspapers tell us that we are only 70 per cent self-sufficient in rice. But a Bernama report on 19 April had this give-away line:

Malaysia, which imports between 700,000 to 800,000 tonnes annually to complement its 1.1 million local production, buys about 50 to 60 percent from Thailand and the rest from Vietnam, India and Pakistan.

Let’s do the calculation:

Local production 1.1 million tonnes divided by total rice requirements (1.1 million tonnes + 750,000 tonnes) = 59 per cent self sufficiency.

No wonder we are vulnerable to rising prices and speculation in food prices.

Is there an alternative to the pesticide-intensive corporate model of agriculture?

How about organic farming? Now, before you say, “Come on, be realistic, it will never be enough to feed the whole country!”, check out the video clip below featuring the amazing organic farming revolution in Cuba, which had the BBC presenter enthused with obvious admiration.

In Malaysia and elsewhere, young people are turning away from farming in rural areas and migrating to towns.

But in Cuba, many young people and professionals are actually turning to farming – even in their towns and back gardens – and taking obvious pride in it. They see themselves as making a useful contribution to local communities. They use natural pesticides – and the vegetable farms are close to the markets; so they cut down on transport costs too.

Let’s give a major role to organic agriculture – which has a tremendous global market potential in the face of the GM food menace and the onslaught of pesticide-laced food products.

Remember, we can’t eat semiconductor chips.

So there’s nothing to stop us from emulating the Cuban farming revolution.

Have a look at this piece I wrote for IPS to discover the likely culprits behind rising food prices.

MALAYSIA: Food Futures Behind Rising Prices
Analysis by Anil Netto

PENANG, May 6 (IPS) – With stock markets and the property sector in the United States weakening, speculative investors are turning to fuels and the food sector as a “safe haven”, driving up prices in the process, say some food security activists.

This is the logical sequence from the transformation of food from a basic human need to an economic ”commodity”, they point out. This has made it a lot easier for investors and trading houses to regard agricultural food as a legitimate target for speculation, hoarding and market manipulation, especially though the futures market. Full article.

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25 Jun 2008 8.33pm

The government should look into the primary, secondary and tertiary industry structures. If food shortage is an issue, why not help to get more people into the agriculture industry – increasing output(using capital intensive method) and at the same time be self-sustainable. We do not want to be affected easily by the world price. Look at petrol prices – even when we have our own petrol, we are not subsidised enough – the hit was felt by everyone. We don’t want another disaster in neighbouring countries to affect us(especially in food).

11 May 2008 2.56pm

feels like we re heading for the so called “GM” revolution, no pesticides, etc.etc….. land should be for people and for food, not for biofuels and shopping malls. we must realy think about our future in the ‘climate changed-post oil’ world.

Juan Taman
Juan Taman
10 May 2008 1.20pm

I believe there is enough land in the country to grow enough food.There has been a lot of idle land left under utilised for food production.We need a right land reform policy. The world food price ,only until recently, has been cheap in the last few decades. Rice farming has been associated with poverty in most Asian countries. Young people leave their farms for cities chasing higher income. Only in Japan and Korea, price of rice is heavily subsidized. By increasing the import can only be a temporary measure to overcome shortage. The country need to have a strategic plan… Read more »

10 May 2008 1.47am

We can’t eat microchips. But you can sell them for money to buy food… and develop the local farming industry.

Cuba’s policies would probably be one of the last we should emulate. Shortages are rampant, and your earnings are so low it would take you months, if not years to buy goods that most Malaysians take for granted.

9 May 2008 10.25pm

It’s not who’s profitting. It’s about why in the world we put an artificial limit on rice import ??? In this day and age where the price of rice is skyrocketing, restricting the import of rice can only worsen the acute rice shortage in our country. The government ought to revoke the AP given to Bernas, and open up the rice import to all. Of course, price of rice would still go up, but at the very least, the people now will have a choice of WHOSE rice we are going to purchase. Abolish the rice AP now !! In… Read more »

9 May 2008 5.30pm

Dear Anil Sorry to post my Q in this blog. But you can delete it after reading. But, I need some support here. It’s regarding the India Ink. The MP’s are not asking the obvious question in Parliament, i.e. (1) did the EC & its famous Chief actually place an order with the Indian Govt for 48,000 bottles at RM2.4 million or for any other qty of Ink from any other country? (2) Was the Ink delivered before 8th March to M’sia or was there a delay/screw up? (3) If the EC Chief answers that the Ink was delivered on… Read more »

9 May 2008 5.20pm

So it is as always. BIG fish eat small fish. Small fish eat worms. The worms cannot even cry out for justice. There is NO justice in malaysian courts.