THE Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry (MoA) is preparing the requests for proposal (RFP) to determine the capabilities of a few companies to protect the nation's food supply.
Its Minister Datuk Seri Salahuddin Ayub said the RFP will be tabled to the Cabinet for approval before interested companies are invited to participate.
"We are preparing the RFP. Once it is completed, we will table it to the Cabinet to seek approval before we could present it to the interested parties," he said at the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute's (Mardi) 50th Celebration in Serdang, Selangor, yesterday.
Salahuddin said the RFP would determine whether the single gatekeeping mechanism (SGM) would be relaxed.
The SGM, which had been used for 45 years, had protected the country's rice supply from volatile price movements and the wellbeing of over 100,000 farmers.
"We will analyse the proposals from all the interested companies to see whether they are eligible to handle the task.
"The mechanism to manage the national rice sector will depend on these companies' capacity and we will make the decision after we have gone through all of their proposals," he said.
Padiberas Nasional Bhd (Bernas) was appointed as the single guardian of the country's rice sector to prevent excessive profiteering and ensure constant supplies. The company is also required to purchase the rice from local growers irrespective of grade and quality.
But certain quarters had demanded the government to review the SGM and Bernas' roles. The company's concession will end in January 2021.
Bernas highlighted whether private companies would import rice if global prices rose to unprecedented levels as the retail price would be controlled to ensure the staple food was affordable by Malaysians. It has also questioned whether other companies would perform their social responsibilities of purchasing the rice from paddy farmers.
Salahuddin had previously said SGM remained as a viable option to sustain the country's food supply and safeguard the industry from volatility.
The SGM is one of the models MoA is considering. The ministry is also looking at opening up the concession to several companies and appointed multiple gatekeepers.
Meanwhile, Mardi DG Datuk Dr Mohamad Roff Mohd Noor said the research and development (R&D) agency would receive a total of RM251.7 million under the proposed 2020 budget.
"For next year, we would allocate RM39.7 million for R&D and Mardi's initiatives to enhance Malaysia's agricultural production, as well as explore and utilise the biodiversity resources.
"The remaining RM212 million will be utilised for the management of the agency," he said.
Mardi yesterday signed a memorandum of understanding with four agencies — National Agricultural Research and Innovation Centre of Hungary, Southeast Asia Regional Centre for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture of the Philippines, International Centre for Education in Islamic Finance and International Tropical Fruits Network.
In 2017, the agricultural sector contributed more than RM90 billion or 7.8% of the country's GDP.