Sabah should break free of Bernas’ monopoly game

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KOTA KINABALU: Sabah should manage its own rice imports as its unique geographical and social landscape warrants a more tailored approach to managing the essential commodity, said Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Industries Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Dr Jeffrey Kitingan.

“The time has come for Sabah to break free from the constraints of a single-entity monopoly that has long shaped our local market.

“I believe this change could stimulate competition and lead to a more stable, and perhaps lower, rice prices for consumers in Sabah,” he said in a statement here today.

Jeffrey made the proposal as households across Sabah are concerned as prices of imported white rice are expected to rise by up to 36% as announced by Bernas.

The Deputy Chief Minister said such a significant price hike not only disrupts the stability of household budgets but also jeopardises the wellbeing of low-income families.

“Bernas must be transparent in its pricing mechanisms and its stock levels. The public deserves to know how prices are determined and what measures are being taken to stabilise the market,” he said.

On top of that, Jeffrey said Bernas should also release their additional stocks from their reserves as these are not just business assets.

“They are a public resource, especially in times of increased demand or market instability such as now. Of course all businesses want to generate profit, but Bernas are dealing with an essential staple. Profit must not come at the expense of the basic needs of the people,” he said.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry (MAFI), Sabah imported 290,000 metric tonnes of rice, including reserves, in 2021 but produced only 22,000 metric tonnes locally.

Jeffrey revealed that his ministry has been working to reduce Sabah’s dependency on imported rice through various projects under the Sabah Maju Jaya (SMJ) initiative.

“Agriculture forms one of the three main pillars of the SMJ. We intend to increase Sabah’s self-sufficiency level for rice production to at least 60% by 2030,” he said.

This, he said, will be achieved through the activation of the Sabah Rice and Paddy Board to assist farmers increase paddy production through the rehabilitation of idle paddy fields and the upgrading of existing irrigation systems.

“These projects are expected to bring long-term benefits and will protect Sabah from global rice price volatility.

“I urge our citizens to be patient as we work steadfastly on these transformative agricultural projects. We’re not merely addressing the immediate crisis; we’re building a more resilient, self-sufficient Sabah,” he said.

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