Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The New Economy

Recession is setting in; share prices are plunging; food prices are soaring; many companies are wrapping up. Many countries are gearing up to face the financial uncertainties that are in store globally. Is this going to be worse than the 1997 financial turmoil? We don’t know. Many MNCs are moving out of Malaysia. Furthermore, Vietnam and China seem to be a preferred choice among investors and those looking to expand their business in the Asian region.

From an agrarian economy, Malaysia moved on to manufacturing sectors. Now the agriculture sector is being revisited. But how committed are we in promoting this? How are the different ministries and agencies working together to bring glory to our agriculture sector by modernizing and transforming it? How are universities supporting the government’s agenda? How much of importance is accorded to the agriculture courses in the universities? Do we have a target of the number of plant breeders, plant pathologists, soil scientists, entomologists, etc that need to be achieved within a stipulated period? How much of funds are allocated for research in agriculture?
As in many countries, the agrarian community is aging. And the younger generation does not perceive agriculture to be lucrative and glamorous. The plantation industry in Malaysia depends on foreign labourers extensively. How can we change these scenarios?

The agriculture sector should be revived with massive efforts and strategies. Interest in agriculture among students should be inculcated. If we are serious about this business, the courses in agriculture at tertiary levels should be enhanced and given great prominence. In fact, Universiti Putra Malaysia (formerly known as Universiti Pertanian Malaysia) should be geared to become one of the best agriculture universities in the region. Instead of competing with each other, duplicating research, and working in isolation, local universities should identify their areas of expertise, focus on this and excel further to become world class institutes.

Scientists from various institutes and universities should collaborate on priority research areas in this field. Crops should be identified, e.g. rice, fruits, ornamentals and flowers, feed crops, etc for improvement. Research teams should be formed at national levels based on expertise and funds should be channelled in a transparent manner by independent bodies headed by impartial personnel.

Malaysia could be one of the key exporters of agricultural products in the region. Our tropical fruits and ornamentals is one of our strengths. However, it is disheartening to see that agro-based industry still largely revolves around making snacks. We should move on to produce the best seedlings and planting materials. Prolonged shelf life, enhanced flavour, and disease and pest resistant tropical fruits should be explored. Feed crops should be researched more to reduce our dependency on imported feed.

Where is our seed industry and business, in spite of all the talks of transforming our agriculture sector?

Let us walk our talk before it is too late!

Mahaletchumy Arujanan

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