By Choo Chon Kai
The road to the Parliament building resounded with chants of “Long live farmers!”, “Long live rice farmers!”, “Long live livestock breeders!” and “Long live fishermen!” on Tuesday.
That was when a coalition of food producers from various places marched and gathered outside Parliament to voice their grievances and demands to the government not to destroy the country’s capacity for food production.
Over 200 people protested outside Parliament and handed over a memo to the prime minister.
The memo called for immediate action to save local food producers – including vegetable farmers, rice farmers, cattle breeders and coastal fisherfolk – from ‘development’ projects that destroy not only their livelihoods but also the people’s food security.
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These farmers, rice farmers, vegetable gardeners, fish farmers, cattle breeders and fisherfolk joined forces in the Food Producers Network, an informal network recently started by Gabungan Marhaen, the Consumer Association of Penang, PeSawah and the Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM).
The message of the protest action and in the memo to the PM was is crystal clear – do not obstruct, harass, short-change or evict food producers such as vegetable farmers, rice farmers, cattle breeders and fisherfolks.
This is especially crucial now when the country is facing a food crisis and food prices are soaring. The main issue here is: if there are no food producers, then everyone has no food!
Also present in solidarity with the food producers in the protest action were activists from organisations such as Gabungan Marhaen, PSM, Suaram, the Muda party, Third World Network and PSM’s youth wing.
An officer from the prime minister’s office received the memo.
Several MPs, including Hassan Karim (Pasir Gudang), Mahfuz Omar (Pokok Sena), Chang Ming Kai (Alor Setar), Dr Azman Ismail (Kuala Kedah), Wong Hon Wai (Bukit Bendera) and Sim Tze Tzin (Bayan Baru), turned up to meet the protesters. They were each given a copy of the memo, and a few of them addressed those gathered, offering support and encouragement.
Forty-eight organisations had endorsed this memo.
During the handover of the Food Producers Network’s memo outside Parliament, PSM national chairman Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj said: “We came here today with the aim of urging this Parliament session to make a resolution requesting all state governments and government agencies not to oppress and put pressure on food producers.”
“We are facing a food crisis at the moment. Don’t block and disturb the food producers. Allow them to continue producing food for the people,” he stressed.
“If the authorities persist in evicting these food producers, such as the vegetable farmers in Perak who are being threatened with mass eviction, and the fishermen in Penang who are threatened by sea reclamation which will damage the fish catchment areas, our capacity to produce food for the people will be destroyed.
“The issue of rising food prices is indeed important, but the capacity of our country to produce food is even more important. Don’t allow any project or policy that destroys our capacity to produce food!”
Among the demands put forward by the Food Producers Network in its memo addressed to the PM, who also chairs the cabinet committee on national food security, are:
- Maintain existing vegetable farms as permanent food production areas and stop the eviction of small vegetable farmers
- Investigate the mismanagement of agricultural land by the Perak state government
- Establish a check-and-balance mechanism to ensure that the alienation of government land is done for the good of the people
- Give all input subsidies for rice production (fertilisers, pesticides and seed) through vouchers and permit the rice farmers to buy the products that they need. (Currently, the government agencies give contracts to private firms to buy and supply all these items to the farmers.)
- Increase the rice price incentive to 80 sen per kg (from its current 35 sen) and recommence the living allowance of RM200 a month for the inter-harvest period
- Solve the problem of excessive weight deductions by the rice mills. (In some cases, up to 28% of the weight of paddy sold by the farmer is deducted, supposedly for moisture and straw content.)
- Recognise rice farmers as food security officers and offer them senior citizens’ pension once they reach 60
- Cancel land reclamation projects that will destroy the habitat and livelihoods of coastal fisherfolk such as the land reclamation project off the southern coast of Penang Island
- Stop the eviction of cattle breeders in Sime Darby plantations
- Act fairly in regulating the sales price of milk and beef. If their margins are compressed too much, cattle farmers will not be able to continue their business
- Do not ratify the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), as that will put pressure on Malaysia to abolish import tariffs for food products. The flooding of the Malaysian market with cheap imported foodstuffs will drive local food producers out of business, seriously undermining our food sovereignty. Then, when there is a war or when climate change causes crop failures elsewhere, we might not be able to get food cheaply from other countries and we will face a painful food crisis
The Food Producers Network urged the PM to table an urgent motion in Parliament to mandate state governments and government agencies to take serious, consistent measures to preserve and enhance the nation’s food production capacity.
Any policies, projects or actions that undermine national food sovereignty should be identified and stopped.
Choo Chon Kai is a longtime PSM activtist
Translated by Raveen Veerasenan