Agriculture is a vital sector in Malaysia’s economy, contributing 7.4% to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2020, and over the years, it employs about 16% of the workforce. The agriculture sector in Malaysia involves large-scale plantations (i.e, rubber, palm oil, cocoa beans) that helps benefit our imports and exports market. In addition to this, Malaysia is also a significant producer of fruits and vegetables.
Agriculture is, of course, a sector that many would think twice to enter. The laborious physical work under the harsh sun is far from ideal working conditions.
According to the World Bank, agriculture development is “one of the powerful tools to end extreme poverty” and would be able to “feed a projected 9.7 billion people by 2050.”
Closer to home, the Malaysian Pineapple Industry Board (LPNM) found that up to 90% of pineapple entrepreneurs under their programme are earning an average income of RM5,000 a month, significantly exiting the low-income household group (B40) bracket .
With this development, perhaps, we should revisit and explore how the agriculture sector has provided employment opportunities and improved the economic status of households nationwide through various organisations’ interventions.
The Sweet Fruit Of Investing Right
The LPNM’s initiative in Setiu, Terengganu, is one of the many programmes targeted to boost agropreneurs income in the state.
The ‘Melon Manis Terengganu’ (MMT) programme that was established in 2015 is the pride and joy of the state. The success of the programme was in the training of 47 farmers. Recently they were given RM250,000 incentive to improve the quality and the productivity of their harvest .
The crunchy, salmon-fleshed melon requires different farming techniques and standard operating procedures (SOP) different from the usual way of farming. Alias Sulong, a long time farmer, was happy to learn a new skill and it resulted in a greater harvest.
I switched to the MMT because the government was helping to expand the market, and MMT is not found in any other place except Terengganu. So, I do not have much competition compared to rockmelons planted in other states. – Alias Sulong, a farmer under Melon Manis Terengganu Initiative 
Not all of the participants of MMT were seasoned farmers. Some jumped on the opportunity and reaped its benefits. Halim Ismail, 31, the youngest farmer in the programme, quit his job in oil and gas to be a farmer. His calculated risk was fruitful as he is now earning a clean income of RM 8,000 a month and up to RM30,000 per season.
In 2019, I found out about the vacancy in Taman Kekal Pengeluaran Makanan Peradong (TKPM), and they were looking for a new, qualified entrepreneur. I immediately applied and went to the interview. Fortunately, I have some knowledge in agriculture and was then accepted. – Halim Ismail, a young farmer under Melon Manis Terengganu Initiative 
Lifting Paddy Farmers From B40 Category
The 2021 report by Muda Agricultural Development Authority (MADA) in Kedah found that through their prolonged initiative to improve the livelihood of paddy farmers have proven bountiful. The agency provided financial subsidies, utilised drones to spray pesticides, and sponsored machinery to the farmers.
To date, 3,942 farmers cultivated more than 4.6 hectares of paddy fields and their average annual income rose to RM33,000.
Now, the poverty rate among the farmers is only at 1% compared to 1970, where the poverty rate in the Muda area was at 70%. – Ahmad Tarmizi Sulaiman, Chairman Of Muda Agricultural Development Authority (MADA)
In 2020, MADA documented the success of 155 paddy farmers from the initiative in “ Buku Hamparan Kejayaan Usahawan Padi 2019-2020 MADA” (Translation: Paddy Entrepreneur Success Spreadsheet 2019-2020 MADA). Some farmers were propelled by their dream to become a ‘tauke padi’ – Paddy Boss.
I was driven to venture into farming after witnessing my father’s hardship as a farmer, and I was determined to become a ‘tauke padi’. Now, I have achieved my dream. – Mohd Fadli Hashim, paddy farmer
Some also encouraged the younger generation to consider agriculture and farming as a prospect.
It is a loss if today’s youth does not see this career path’s potential. MADA has organised many programmes. Workwise, it has been improving with the help of technology. It is no longer a career that is akin to “ kais pagi makan pagi, kais petang makan petang” and rolled in dirt and soil. – Ahmad Basri Othman, paddy farmer
Improving Food Security For The Orang Asli Community
#MisiBantu OA is a collaborative effort between KUASA (Persatuan Aktivis Sahabat Alam), KAMY (Klima Action Malaysia), Gerimis Art Project and Shaq Koyok, an orang Asli. #MisiBantu was established in 2020 during the pandemic lockdown to ensure that Orang Asli’s (OA) in Pos Lanai, Pahang had adequate food supplies and basic necessities to survive.
Initially, the effort was funded by public donations. The received fund of RM130,331 was used to provide food supplies to the OA community. This momentum was followed by setting up “Kebun Mandiri OA” to improve the yield of existing OA farms in Pos Lanai. This initiative also received backing from the
“Hasanah Special Grant”, a grant supported by Yayasan Hasanah and Malaysia’s Ministry of Finance.
The same programme was introduced to OA’s living in Gua Musang, Kelantan.
The project will increase the Orang Asli community’s food production and teach them resilience. In Kelantan, the situation was slightly more severe as JAKOA could not reach some of them. At the time, we were told that the villagers barely had any food left, and they could not go out [during MCO]. – Hafizudin Nasarudin. President of Perak-based Persatuan Aktivis Sahabat Alam (Kuasa)
The programme was a life saver as it helped to fill an immediate need of lack during the pandemic, but in the long run, it also provided the OA’s with additional agriculture knowledge and skills.
Before this programme, we tried to plant some vegetables for our consumption but faced several problems such as pests and had to deal with elephants destroying our crops. After participating in the programme, we solved about 70% of our crop problems. – Jefri, Orang Asli involved Kebun Mandiri OA 
The Boundless Potential Agriculture Holds
The agriculture sector in Malaysia heavily relies on cash crops production such as palm oil and rubber plantation. Only 8% of the nation’s arable land is currently used for food production. At the same time, most of our smallholders, local farmers, are still part of the B40 (bottom 40% income group).
The issue that they would have to grapple with often includes lack of innovation, financial support, infrastructure. And in the case of OA communities, land ownership is a persistent issue.
More and more organisations are involved in improving the agriculture scene nationwide. Some like Global Peace Foundation, OA Organik aim better to improve the livelihoods of the indigenous communities through farming. On the other hand, an initiative like Coco Jack, seeks to revolutionise the sector.
However, urban dwellers are also becoming more aware of its benefits. Take, for example, the Penangites who have saved RM110 in their grocery spending through the state government’s urban farming initiative.
As farmers have testified, farming is a profitable venture. Anyone who puts in the effort can reap its rewards. With higher demand for fresh vegetables and fruits, maybe it is time for all of us to pick up a cangkul and start ploughing the land.
Explore our sources:
- Department of Statistics Malaysia. (2021). Gross Domestic Product (GDP) By State 2020. Link
- R.Chellam. (2020).Econ 4.0: Why focus on farming? The Edge Markets. Link
- BERNAMA. (2021). Budget 2022: Transforming agriculture sector to be more dynamic, modern. Malay Mail. Link
- The World Bank. (2021). Agriculture and Food. Link
- BERNAMA. (2022).90% of pineapple entrepreneurs exit B40 group — study. The Edge Markets. Link
- N.Yatim. (2021). RM250,000 untuk pengusaha melon manis. Sinar Harian. Link
- The Sun Daily. (2017). Terengganu pushes to promote its exclusive MMT. Link
- Berita Harian. (2020). ‘Jadi petani, jiwa kena kental’ Link
- R.N.F.Aida. (2021). Pendapatan petani meningkat. Sinar Harian. Link
- R.Hashim. (2020). Kisah kejayaan usahawan padi dibukukan. Sinar Harian. Link
- Persatuan Aktivis Sahabat Alam (KUASA).Facebook post. Link.
- I.Loh & I.Aqilah. (2021). Empowering the Orang Asli. The Star. Link
- P.Subramaniam. (2021).Cover Story: Fintech for farmers. The Edge Markets. Link