KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia's government on Monday reassured the country there is sufficient rice in the market and urged people not to hoard locally produced rice after recent panic-buying led to empty shelves in supermarkets and grocery stores nationwide.
Agriculture and Food Security Minister Mohamad Sabu said the government will increase distribution to rural areas to address a supply issue sparked by a hike in the price of imported rice. Malaysia and many countries are grappling with rising rice prices and low supplies after India's curb on rice sales cut global supplies by a fifth.
Mohamad said Malaysia's locally produced rice is capped at 2.60 ringgit ($0.55) per kilogram (2.2 pounds), the cheapest in the region. So when sole importer Padiberas Nasional Berhad raised the price of imported white rice by 36% on Sept. 1, it prompted many Malaysians to switch from imported rice to cheaper local rice.
He said the higher price of imported rice cannot be helped after after 19 countries, including India, restricted rice exports to cater for domestic needs. Malaysia imports about a third of its rice supply.
“Actually, we don't have a shortage of rice in the country. It's just that the price of imported rice has risen sharply. ... Many people have shifted to buying cheaper local rice," he said, adding that the government is taking steps to address this issue.
“I want to remind the people again to keep calm and just buy what you need. Don't panic-buy.”
Mohamad said the government will increase distribution of local rice to rural areas. He said the government will also subsidize the price of imported rice to two poorer states on Borneo island to ensure adequate supply. From Tuesday, he said, authorities will step up surveillance of rice wholesalers and shops to ensure there is no hoarding of local rice.
He said samples will also be taken to ensure that sellers are not repackaging local rice as imported rice or mixing the grains for higher profits, warning that stern action will be taken against anyone found to be doing so.
Mohamad's press conference was held ahead of this week's meeting of Southeast Asian agriculture and forestry ministers that begins Wednesday. He said the rice crisis and food security will be discussed at their meeting. The minister of the 10-member bloc, known as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, will also meet their counterparts from China, Japan and South Korea.