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August 18, 2005 12:17 PM

Can Kedah Maintain Its National Rice Bowl Status In Next 10 Years?

ALOR STAR, Aug 18 (Bernama) -- Can Kedah, which has drawn up its Action Plan for a Developed Kedah by 2010, maintain its status as the "National Rice Bowl" in the next 10 years? The question is pertinent in view of the rapid development in Kedah which is forcing the state to sacrifice large tracts of padi land for construction.

According to statistics, the area of padi land in the Muda Agricultural Development Authority (Mada) 10 years ago was 100,000 hectares but the area had shrunk to 97,000ha due to urbanisation. Kedah is the main supplier of rice in the country, producing 40 percent of the national need. The crop is planted on 161,690ha, including the 97,000ha in Mada, 15,684ha in the Drainage and Irrigation Department Scheme, 16,176 ha in the area outside the DID scheme and 32,830ha village land.

A member of the Mada Board of Directors Datuk Ahmad Lebai Sudin said the Mada land area could not escape the ever growing urbanisation of the state and little by little the land mass is being whittled away.

"We must form a special committee for the padi land which should be entrusted with the task of maintaining the padi production despite the continuous development going on in the state," he said.

He said new padi land should be opened up on the fringes of Mada to replace those which had been taken over for development. Ahmad said the most glaring example was the padi land around the city of Alor Star or other towns which were surrounded by padi land which had been whittled away by the construction of buildings by both the private sector and the government.

He said areas such as Alor Mengkudu, Hutan Kampung, Kepala Batas, Telok Kechai, Tandop and areas near Gunung Keriang which once was covered by padi land were now under colourful buildings of various shapes and sizes, most of which were houses.

He said that based on the development graph of the state, more of this land would be taken up for development, making it impossible for Kedah to maintain its proud status of being the rice bowl for the country.

The land on the outskirts of the towns are the most suitable for housing projects and developers had no choice but to hunt for such land.

A farmer from Alor Mengkudu who declined to be named said he had to relinquish his land for development because it was more profitable than padi planting.

He was paid a hefty sum for the land and given three medium cost houses on the land by the developer.

The three houses could bring in about RM1,500 a month rent but if he had continued to plant padi, he would only obtain about RM700 a month. According to him, although the construction of houses or other buildings on Mada land was not allowed, the regulation was not regarded as binding by some quarters.

A survey showed that other infrastructures built on padi land besides houses include highways and roads, schools, offices, industrial buildings, and others.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry had asked the state governments not to allow the status of padi land to be changed to commercial land in view of the need to maintain the output of padi at the present level unless it was absolutely necessary.

The change of status of Mada land peaked between 1997 and 1999 when 460ha were changed to commercial status, causing a loss of 3,600 tonnes of padi output a year.

Acting Menteri Besar Datuk Mahdzir Khalid said the most effective way of overcoming the problem would be to increase padi output on the available land.

He said the state government was seeking ways to increase the padi output in the Mada areas to 10 tonnes a hectare compared to only six to seven tonnes now.

Currently, only about 50 farmers had achieved this target. Among the steps taken to boost padi production were to convert the padi land into mini estates and to provide better watering systems for the growing padi.



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