Mat Sabu: A year in review as the Agriculture and Food Security Minister
SHAH ALAM - It has been an eventful year since Datuk Seri Mohamad Sabu returned to the Cabinet with the portfolio of Agriculture and Food Security Minister.
Mohamad, 68, was the Defence Minister from May 2018 to February 2020 under the then Pakatan Harapan-led government.
His return to an entirely different portfolio from the last position under the Unity government, seems better suited to his larger-than-life personality and talents, however even his affable personality could not save him from the barrage of criticisms he would face later in the year, as the nation faced pressing issues of food security and the rising cost of raw materials.
As he took the reign of the Agriculture and Food Security Ministry, he faced his first challenge of the year as the nation faced supply issues with poultry and eggs.
He addressed the issue by announcing that the government would continue to import eggs until supply stabilised.
Later he would have to contend with the shortage of poultry supply, which he revealed was due to a shortage of foreign workers in poultry farms.
During his tenure, Mat Sabu took over The National Agrofood Policy 2021-2030 (NAP 2.0) which aspires to drive economic growth and improve the well-being of the people while prioritising national food security and nutrition.
He also introduced the Agrofood Financing Scheme to assist agro-food enterprises in increasing production productivity. This financing scheme enabled farmers to purchase advanced technologies and equipment, thereby increasing efficiency and reducing costs.
Last month, the Agro Madani Sales organised by the ministry, recorded sales of more than RM60 million and benefitted more than seven million households.
Earlier in the year, Mat Sabu also accepted the Food Security Resolution, which includes proposals to empower farmers, breeders, and padi farmers through the development of the latest agricultural technology.
He also held meetings with Sabah Deputy Chief Minister 1 Datuk Seri Jeffrey Kitingan, who was also state agriculture, fisheries, and food industry minister, to discuss large scale padi cultivation in the state.
Under his leadership, the ministry also initiated programmes and improved existing initiatives to boost the country’s crop yields, especially rice. The initiatives included using the latest technology and exploring new rice planting areas, and would be implemented with allocations under the Budget 2024.
Mat Sabu also introduced the Pineapple Industry Development Strategy and reorganised the export market promotion system for higher efficiency and competitiveness.
The Ministry also focused on strengthening national food security through the implementation of high-impact initiatives, such as the National Milk Industry Project through the Integrated Dairy Farm Development Project in Chuping, Perlis.
Despite all of these, calls for Mat Sabu to be taken out of this portfolio continued to persist citing underperformance.
Many analysts and politicians claimed he was not up to task, especially after he claimed that the price of rice in Malaysia was the cheapest in the region.
Critics say he often appears confused about the difference between the price of local and imported rice when explaining that rice-producing countries like India have reduced their exports.
MCA had also called for Mohamad to be replaced, citing his failure to deal with shortages in eggs and rice which have plagued the country recently.
“Not only did he botch preventing these problems from occurring, he (also) failed to address the sharp price hikes in people’s daily essentials,” the statement said.
It was reported that in a Cabinet review Mat Sabu, received the lowest marks, giving rise to questions over his ability to tackle food-related issues in the country.
He was criticised heavily on social media over problems in the supply of chicken and eggs, which in turn caused a jump in prices.
He later defended his score, describing it as a continuation of the previous government's performance.
Nevertheless, some are of the opinion that Mat Sabu had done well in acknowledging the cause of food security issues including dependence on imports and climate change.
It would be unfair to blame the minister as he has only been appointed to the portfolio for a year, as policies do take time to be implemented to work as planned to obtain desired outcomes.
The challenge for Mat Sabu in the upcoming year, would probably be to prove his worthiness in holding such an important portfolio and to tackle Malaysia's food shortages much more effectively.