Malaysia’s most economically significant natural resource is tin; its tin deposits are the most extensive in the world. Other important natural resources are bauxite, copper, gold, iron ore, natural gas, petroleum, and timber.

Malaysia is the world’s leading tin producer and an important producer of other nonenergy minerals including bauxite, coal, copper, gold, and iron. However, mining has declined in its contribution to the economy and labor force. From 1980 to 2005, the percentage of the labor force employed in mining and quarrying fell from 1.6 percent to an estimated 0.4 percent, and as a percentage of gross domestic product mining and quarrying declined from 10.1 percent to 6.7 percent.

Until recently Malaysia was reliant tin, palm oil, rubber. Rare-earth producing countries include Russia, Malaysia, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Rare earths are 17 minerals used in the manufacture of hybrid cars, weapons, flat-screen TVs, mobile phones, mercury-vapor lights, and camera lenses. China has about a third of the world's rare earth reserves but supplies about 90 percent of what is consumed. It has placed restrictions on exports, sparking causing among manufacturers from Japan to the U.S.

Tin in Malaysia

Malaysia used to the world's largest producer of tin, producing 40 percent of the world’s total production. Much of the ore was obtained through dredging and gravel pumping in northwest Malaysia. Some was also imported from Thailand. The major smelting centers were in Penang, Butterworth and Port Swettenham.

Tin is a metal used primarily in cans and electrical construction. The main producers of tin are Brazil, Bolivia, China, Indonesia and Malaysia. The demand for tin has declined since other metals have been used for cans. In the old days tin was panned like gold by Malaysian women.

Many of the Chinese and Indians that live in Malaysia today are descendants of laborers brought in to work in Malaysia’s tin mines. For the most part the mines were owned by European owners. They helped transform Malaysia into Britain’s richest colony.

Tantulum, once regarded as a useless by product of tin-smelting, is now regarded as valuable metal used to make capacitors that regulate electrical currents in products like mobile phones and computers. For a while it was worth about $1,000 a kilogram but by the early 2000s was worth around $500 a kilogram.

There are rich deposits of tin in the Penang area, where some of the mining is still done by freelance diggers who can earn up to $100 a day. The practice is dangerous and a bother to local people. The diggers dig everywhere, under roads, under houses. Three died when they dug under a car dealership and the floor collapsed.

Malaysia’s Controversial Rare Earth Facility

The Australian mining company Lynas operates plant in northern Pahang state that is the first rare earth refinery outside of China in years. It is expected to meet nearly a third of world demand for rare earths, excluding China. Lynas has said its plant has state-of-the-art pollution control. The plant will refine ore from Australia. The first phase of the plant cost $472 million. The second phase, costing another $315 million, doubled production capacity. Malaysia's last rare earth refinery — operated by Japan's Mitsubishi group in northern Perak state — was closed in 1992 following protests and claims that it caused birth defects and leukemia among residents. It is one of Asia's largest radioactive waste cleanup sites.

In January 2013, Alex Heber wrote in Australian Mining, “Australia’s Lynas Corporation commissioned its controversial rare earth plant in Malaysia. The first delivery of commercial rare earth product is expected in the next few weeks. Lynas said they have successfully begun cracking and leaching rare earth extraction units and production will continue to ramp up over the next three to four months.[Source: Alex Heber, Australian Mining, January 8, 2013]

In November 2012, Australian Mining reported Lynas had received its first shipment of about 100 containers of rare earth concentrate at the Malaysian plant. At the time the company expected the first kiln feed to take place just a couple of days later. However, the company has been embroiled in legal action launched by the Save Malaysia, Stop Lynas group which aimed to block Lynas from acquiring a temporary operating licence for the new facility. “The safe and efficient operation of the LAMP is now a reality, and we are providing real-time data that assures people the LAMP is entirely safe for our local communities and the environment,” a spokesman for Lynas said. Protests took place outside the company’s Sydney head office in November last year amid concerns from the Greens that radio active waste produced at the Malayasian plant would be shipped back to Australia.

In June 2012, Eileen Ng of Associated Press wrote: “Malaysia's government has imposed two new conditions on a rare earth refinery set up by Australian miner Lynas to assuage public fears of radioactive pollution, a group of villagers protesting the plant said. Tan Bun Teet, who heads the "Save Malaysia, Stop Lynas" coalition, said the group received a letter from the science ministry rejecting its appeal to revoke a license granted to Lynas. The letter cited a lack of scientific and technical justification. [Source: Eileen Ng, Associated Press, June 15 2012]

The Malaysian government held a public hearing to review its decision amid protests by residents and civil groups over alleged health and environmental risks posed by potential leaks of radioactive waste. Controversy over the project poses a headache to the government. Tan said the ministry instead told Lynas to submit a plan to immobilize radioactive elements in its waste, and an emergency response plan on dust control. "The two conditions are flimsy and general in nature. They are not specific enough and will in no way safeguard or appease the fears of residents living in the area," he told The Associated Press. The group plans to challenge the government decision in court, he said. Lynas said output for the first phase has been sold out for the next decade and that the delay was causing losses to its suppliers and customers.

Agriculture in Malaysia

GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 11.9 percent; industry: 41.2 percent; services: 46.8 percent (2012 est.). Agriculture - products: Peninsular Malaysia - palm oil, rubber, cocoa, rice; Sabah - palm oil, subsistence crops; rubber, timber; Sarawak - palm oil, rubber, timber; pepper. Irrigated land: 3,800 sq kilometers (2009). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Northern Peninsular Malaysia is regarded as the rice bowl of Malaysia. Most farmers are sharecroppers or tenants. Rubber and palm oil are produced on huge plantations, many owned by corporations or cronies with ties to Malaysia’s ruling party/

Agriculture, forestry, and fishing have not declined in terms of productive output but have declined as a proportion of economic output. From 1980 to 2005, the percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP) provided by agriculture declined from 22.6 percent to approximately 8.7 percent. In the same time period, the percentage of the total labor force employed in agriculture fell from 37.2 percent to approximately 13.1 percent. Despite these declines, Malaysia is the world’s top producer of palm oil and is a major producer of bananas, cocoa, coconuts, pepper, pineapples, rice, rubber, and tea. In statistics, forestry and fishing often are categorized as agriculture.

Malaysia’s Best is a brand which represents the seal of approval from the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-Based-Industry for food safety and quality. The branding serves as a quality assurance for domestic and foreign consumers on Malaysia’s agricultural products. The brand name and seal enhances the image of the country's agricultural products, which in turn enhances demand in the global market. The Malaysia’s Best branding is issued by the Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (FAMA) for agricultural produce that follow the highest safety and quality standards set by the Authority. Farmers participating in the Malaysia’s Best programme should have the Farm Accreditation Scheme of Malaysia (SALM). [Source: Malaysian Government]

Agriculture Research and Development in Malaysia

Research & development (R&D) projects carried out in the plantation sector: Kenaf Production Technology for Fibre or Forage; High Density Planting of Chok Anan Mango; Minimally Processed Fruits; Fertigation Technology for Fruit Vegetables Production; Handling and Transportation of Selected Fruits; Hybrid 73-50 Pineapple for Canning; Sweet Potato for Flour and Processed Food Products; Naturally Ventilated Insect-Proof Rain Shelter; Nutrient Flow Technique Hydroponics System; Integrated Data Acquisition and Monitoring System for Crop Production under Controlled Environment; Development of New Orchid Hybrids; Micro Drip Fertigation Irrigation System for Temperate and Tropical Vegetable Productions under Controlled Environment; Insect-Proof Greenhouse Structure for High Value Leafy Vegetable; Deep Flow Hydroponics System; Pegaga (pennyweed) Production Technology; Technology for the Production of Sweet Potatoes Fries; Insect-Proof Greenhouse Structure for Star Fruit; Production of Essential Oils; Coconut Dehusking Machine; Ginger Planter; Production of Vegetables under Rain Shelters; Technology of Production of Quality Star Fruits under Netted Structure; Naturally Ventilated Rain Shelter Structure for Grape Production in the Lowlands; Naturally Ventilated Shade House Structure for Herbs Production. [Source: Malaysian Government]

Research & development (R&D) projects carried out in food processing; Confectionery Jelly Production; Reduced Fat Chicken Frankfurter; Reduced Fat Chicken Spread; Reduced Fat Restructured Chicken Steak; Confectionery Jellies; Modified Atmosphere Packaging of Fish Fillet (Garoupa and Seabass); Frozen High Fibre Fish Nuggets; Frozen Breaded Tilapia Fillet Cutlets; Frozen ‘Keropok Lekor’ (Fish Sausages); Frozen Tempura Tilapia; Fruit Appetisers; Fruit Sauces; Heart of Palm – Canned, Candied and Pickled; High Fibre Beverages from Vegetables and Tropical Fruits; High Fibre Ginger Drinks; Impregnated Packaging Material; Mengkudu Products; Pandan Powder; Reduced Calorie Jams; Rice-Based Crackers and Cookies; Tilapia Frankfurters; Reduced Calories Traditional. [Source: Malaysian Government]

Parties such as MARDI, universities, Government agencies, and research institutes have been involved in the discovery of future or advance technologies. It is envisioned that the application of such technologies will help spur the growth of the agriculture and agro-based sector. Technologies being researched include: Resistant Bacteria; Non-Destructive Technique; Crop Bioreactor; Genetic Engineering for Pineapples; Genetic Engineering of Orchids.

Malaysian High-Tech Farms Helping the Poor

Reporting from Pulau Manis, Malaysia, Sean Yoong of Associated Press wrote: “For one Malaysian widow, moving to this experimental farming village represented hope for a brighter future for her seven children. Her new neighbor, also among the first to settle here, sought an easier life after years of low-paying, back-breaking plantation labor. The corporation that built this rural community two years ago sees it as part charity, part test kitchen. The villagers — 80 families in all — live for free in low-cost bungalows and work on a high-tech hydroponic farm, a setup the company hopes to replicate elsewhere. "We thought that we should do something different, instead of just donating money," said Tan Say Jim, managing director of Malaysian technology firm Iris Corp. "Even if we give you a little money, you'll still be poor. We wanted to really touch lives." [Source: Sean Yoong, AP, November 9, 2012 ^*^]

“So far, villagers in the project have comprised the country's majority ethnic Malay Muslims as well as a small number of indigenous tribal people, all of whom make up the bulk of the country's rural poor. The government is now involved in a plan to build similar villages across this Southeast Asian country, where nearly one of 10 people in rural provinces lives below the official poverty line. The idea for the village began at Iris, a company whose interests range from passport computer chips to agricultural equipment, much of which is in use at Kampung Pulau Manis and a second village set up this year. Collaborating with a local Islamic bank for charity work, Iris executives brainstormed a plan to develop homes and a farm on 25 acres (10 hectares) of abandoned land that state authorities offered in Pulau Manis district, in eastern Pahang state. ^*^

“In early 2011, families selected by Pahang's welfare and religious authorities left behind their cramped wooden shacks to move into three-bedroom, brick-and-mortar houses built in neat rows on bare land surrounded by vestiges of palm oil plantations. Grocery shops and a school are nearby, but it's nearly an hour's drive to the closest major town. Iris also constructed plant nurseries where many villagers now tend to cabbage, tomatoes, rock melons, okra, lettuce and chili peppers. Iris sells the produce in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's largest city, as well as in neighboring Singapore. Iris uses technology it calls the "autopot system." Each plant is in its own pot that regulates the delivery of water and nutrients, using less water than other farming methods. The company says it is "absolutely certain" the villages will be profitable from crop earnings and sustainable in the long term, though it was unable to provide specific projections.” ^*^

Iris says the "Rimbunan Kasih" villages are environmentally friendly. It says construction of the houses requires no timber or concrete, and that its farm technology cuts waste. Water is recycled from fish tanks to the mechanically irrigated vegetable pots. "In spite of the costs of the hydroponic system, it's possible for you to market high-value crops at a high price," he said. "But then, if your lettuce is more expensive than the lettuce imported from China, then it won't be sustainable." ^*^

Poor Malaysian Farmers Working on a High-Tech Farm

Sean Yoong of Associated Press wrote: “Among the residents is Faizal Zulkifli, a thin, darkly tanned father of three. His bungalow is almost indistinguishable from his neighbors', with a rust-tainted motorcycle, papaya tree and a clothesline filled with sarongs and sweat pants in his front yard. His living room is sparsely furnished with a worn-out couch and a table topped with baby formula and fruits. [Source: Sean Yoong, AP, November 9, 2012 ^*^]

“It's far from a luxurious existence, but it's better than what his family had when he worked on a palm oil plantation. "I remember when we lived before in a house with no electricity, no tap water," he said, carrying his year-old son while taking a break from his work doing farm equipment maintenance. He said his work is a cinch compared to his old job loading heavy bunches of palm oil fruits onto trucks.^*^

“Norlailawati Yusof feels much the same way. She used to work as a housemaid in another Pahang province, earning 15 ringgit ($5) a day. Now she makes three times that much working on Iris' farm. Norlailawati, whose husband died of pneumonia several years ago, prunes vegetables planted neatly in mechanically irrigated pots inside a plastic-shaded, nylon-walled nursery. She says the morning heat and the menial chores rarely faze her, since she considers it a blessing to be earning a steady salary. ^*^

“And her present working hours — seven hours a day, six days a week — feel less demanding, enabling her to devote more time to her children. "I don't worry so much anymore," says Norlailawati, who wears a flowing Muslim headscarf and a loose-fitting dress while working. "I can afford to send my seven children to school." ^*^

Success of the High-Tech Farms Helping the Poor

Sean Yoong of Associated Press wrote: “A few months after the Pulau Manis village was completed, Iris began building a similar village about a half-hour drive away. Early this year, another 50 families moved into the second village, which features space for raising chickens and water tanks where thousands of freshwater fish are now bred. It wasn't long before Malaysia's federal government took notice of both villages, which Iris says cost a total of 16 million ringgit ($5.2 million) to develop. Tan, the Iris executive, gave Prime Minister Najib Razak a tour of one of the villages. Subsequently, government officials agreed to fund the construction of at least five more villages by Iris in various Malaysian states, each costing about 25 million ringgit ($8.2 million). The project is known in the Malay language as "Rimbunan Kasih," loosely translated as "Canopies of Love."[Source: Sean Yoong, AP, November 9, 2012 ^*^]

“Each upcoming village will contain 100 houses and wide-ranging farm facilities, as well as community halls, places of worship and computer laboratories. There will be other upgrades: The 1,000-square-foot (100-square-meter) houses will be better insulated and can be constructed faster, within 10 days instead of four weeks, with Iris using its own building panels made of Styrofoam and mineral compounds. Tan said it is "not unlike making a house out of Lego blocks." ^*^

“Najib is expected to launch the first village before the end of 2013 as part of efforts to bring better wages to rural regions, where official data show about 8.5 percent of Malaysians live in poverty. In rural parts of peninsular Malaysia, the government considers families earning less than 743 ringgit ($242) a month to be living in poverty. ^*^

“Some see the project as a model for how the corporate sector can become more closely involved in Malaysia's anti-poverty efforts. Tan hopes he can also drum up interest in other countries in Asia and Africa for such villages, as well as potentially build integrated farms in refugee camps. Mohd Khanif Yusop, a professor specializing in agriculture and land management at Malaysia's Putra University, said the project must strike a balance between being cost-effective and producing lucrative crops. ^*^

“Tan acknowledges there have been problems: A few villagers were reprimanded for failing to show up for work, while another struggled with a drug addiction. But residents of Pulau Manis and the second village in nearby Padang Rumbia district told The Associated Press they are happy with their new homes and feel safe. Villagers in Padang Rumbia are nurturing a sense of community by organizing soccer games and get-togethers to spruce up the neighborhood. Asked how long he hopes to stay, Padang Rumbia resident Hanif Abdul Hamid grins and replies: "Until they kick me out. Why should I go anywhere else?" ^*^

Crops in Malaysia

Major crops: palm oil, rubber, coconuts, pineapples, pepper, hemp and tobacco. Major crops for domestic consumption: rice Major crops for export: palm oil, rubber,

Wet rice had traditionally been the main crop. Abundant rains and irrigation makes double cropping common. Most of the rice in consumed domestically. Nearly all the wet rice farming is done by Malays.

Chief pepper producers in 1970s: 1) India (38 percent); 2) Indonesia (26 percent); 3) Sarawak in Malaysia (12 percent); 4) Sri Lanka (10 percent); 5) Other (12 percent). Chief pepper exporters in 2002: 1) Vietnam; 2) India; 3) Brazil; 4) Indonesia; and 5) Malaysia.

Malaysia is an exporter of cacao (the source of chocolate). It produces less than 50,000 tons. The worlds top cocoa producers are (1988): 1) Côte d'Ivoire, 2) Brazil, 3) Malaysia, 4) Ghana, 5) Nigeria. The worlds top cocoa exporters are (1988): 1) Côte d'Ivoire, 2) Malaysia, 3) Ghana, 4) Nigeria, 5) Brazil.

See Chocolate, Food.

Sumatra and Malaysia supply the world's perfume industry with the exotic herb patchouli.

Malaysia has traditionally imported large quantities of food crops. The world’s top importers of corn in 1991 were: 1) Japan, 2) The USSR, 3) South Korea, 4) Taiwan, 5) South Africa, 6) the Netherlands, 7) Zimbabwe, 8) Malaysia, 9) Spain, 10) the UK. The world’s top importers of rice in 1991 were: 1) Iran, 2) the USSR, 3) Saudi Arabia, 4) Senegal, 5) Hong Kong, 6) Malaysia, 7) South Africa, 8) Brazil, 9) Turkey and 10) Ivory Coast.

Coconuts and Coconut Monkeys

Malaysia harvest about 125 million coconuts a year. In Malaysia, coconut water is drunk; coconut oil is used for cooking; coconut palm sap is made into fermented drinks; and coconut milk is used as a flavor for food. Parts of coconuts or coconut palms can also be used as medicine, soap, fuel, rope, dye, yeast, fertilizer, corks, cups, bowls, musical instruments, decorations and jewelry.

In some parts of Malaysia, pig-tailed macaques (a relatively russet, rain forest monkey native to Southeast Asia) have been trained to climb trees and pick coconuts for human masters. Known locally as “beroks”, they can harvest 300 or 400 coconuts in a morning before they tire in the hot sun. They are connected to their human handlers by thin ropes or chains. The best monkeys can harvest 800 coconuts a day and clear a whole grove in a day by leaping 30 feet from tree to tree and tossing down coconuts like cluster bombs. [Source: Randall Peffer, Smithsonian magazine]

One handler told Smithsonian, "the big males are best for picking from tall trees, where the work is hard. But the males can be difficult to manage; they are strong and have large canines. Young beroks are easier to work with but are not always as productive."

Humans are sometimes faster than beroks on a single tree but monkeys have more endurance, they can sometimes leap from tree to tree, and they aren't bothered as much by stinging ants, scorpions and poisonous snakes that often inhabit the top of coconut palms.

Coconut Monkeys at Work

Monkeys are sometimes employed in the coconut industry to climb up trees and bring down coconuts. The monkeys and their handlers are contracted out by plantation owners. They are taught not to bring down any old coconut but only the young ones with tender meat. They are fickle though and won't work when they are tired.

Monkeys that respond to voice commands are sometimes used to pick coconuts. Sometimes a owner will get monkeys to work in pairs or teams to bring down hard to reach nuts.

Describing a berok named Hitam at work on 80-foot-high trees, Randall Peffer, wrote in Smithsonian magazine, "Led to the first tree, the berok rapidly shins up. Tahar [the handler] lets out coils of leash until the monkey is swaying among the fronds. Almost immediately the tree begins to shake as Hitam struggles to break a coconut from its tough stem. Rustling noises disturb the silence and Tahar moves quickly to dodge the coconuts that suddenly begin to thump on the soft ground around him."

"After five or six coconuts are plucked. Tahar tugs on the leash for Hitam to climb down and try the next tree some 25 to 30 feet away. The work is slow; Hitam lacks the speed and strength of larger, more experienced berok."

The Malay writer Fatima Busu, once explained, "Beroks are so like us. They can be loving and cooperative but also mean spirited, selfish and lustful. Also very independent. We can love this animal. We can hate it, all at the same time."

Coconut Monkeys, Their Handlers and Training

At home the beroks are kept tethered to poles and are transported from place to pace on platforms on the back of bicycles. Or motorbikes. If a berok falls and breaks a leg it is given a splint, hand feed, bathed by its handler until it recovers. Monkey have been known to protect their handlers from wild dogs and raise a call of alarm when a poisonous snake is near.

One handler told Smithsonian, "I give my monkeys affection every day. I sit with them, and we groom one another. We share fruit or walk to the river together to bathe." Sometimes the monkeys are offspring of berok; sometimes they are caught on the forest with nets or traps. Often though, nursing mothers are shot are their babies are taken.

Training the beroks involves patience, persistence, punishment and rewards, mimicry and persuading the monkey that picking coconuts is somehow to his or her advantage. A bond between the trainer and monkey and an understanding of macaque body language and social interaction are necessary.

Describing the training of berok by a trainer name Hajee, Peffer wrote: "First the man clips the monkey's wire collar to a leash, holds him close and dangles before him a ripe coconut on a stem and shows the berok how twisting the coconut will make it fall. Next the trainer places the monkey's hand on the coconut, and the monkey imitates what he has just seen. The coconut drops. At the end of the training session, Jajee cuts open the fruit and shares it with the trainee."

“On day two the coconut is tied to a low tree. The exercises of the day before are repeated, but this time the monkey has to climb a tree. Successful plucking is rewarded with another coconut feast. On the third day the monkey repeats this lesson and then follows his trainer to a tall palm."

Later the monkeys are taught to respond to commands, and pick ripe coconuts using a similar reward system. After a training period of around 20 days, the berok is ready to pick coconuts for five or six hours a day.

Sugar Shortages in Malaysia

In August 2009, Xinhua reported: “It has been the norm for Malaysia to face sugar shortage during festive seasons and this year is no exception, with the first shortage reported early this month. Whenever a shortage of the item arises, stakeholders involving the Malaysian government, consumers and sugar traders will start pointing fingers at each other, making the root cause behind the shortage vague. While the Malaysian government said there was enough supply of sugar in the market, there were isolated cases reporting a lack of sugar supply. [Source: Xinhua, August 31, 2009 ]

“Coarse sugar is priced at 1.45 ringgit (0.41 U.S. dollars) and 1.55 ringgit (0.44 U.S. dollars) per kilogram respectively in Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia. Refined sugar, which was not a controlled-price item before Sept. 13, 2006, is priced at 1.55 ringgit and 1.65 ringgit a kilogram respectively in Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia. To keep the sugar prices low, the Malaysian government has been providing subsidies to sugar manufacturers in the country. The annual spending on sugar subsidies totaled 720 million ringgit (205.71 U.S dollars), said Malaysian Domestic Trade Minister IsmailSabir Yaakob.

“Prior to Sept. 13, 2006, sugar manufacturers were always alleged for manufacturing refined sugar since the commodity was more profitable as its price was not controlled then. However, sugar shortage in 2006 spread over a time span of about seven months beginning in March, "forcing" the Malaysian government to fix the ceiling price of refined sugar. This was among the many measures taken to curb sugar shortage and thus, the issue of omitting the production of coarse sugar has no longer arised.

“Other measures taken at that time included sugar rationing as well as setting up of hotlines to allow sugar be delivered to areas facing shortage immediately. In fact, sugar manufacturers in the country are respondent to the Malaysian government's call to increase sugar production. According to Ismail Sabri, the Malaysian sugar manufacturers have agreed to raise monthly production from 100,000 metric tons to 120,000 metric tons. Assuring the consumers that there will be ample supply of sugar, Ismail Sabri also said that there would be no increase in sugar prices this year.”

Causes of Sugar Shortages in Malaysia

In August 2009, Xinhua reported: “From the Malaysian government's perspective, sugar shortage is caused by illegal hoarding of sugar. Irresponsible sellers are said to have hoarded the stock in order to assert pressure on the Malaysian government to raise the sugar's prices. In August alone, at least 60 metric tons of sugar worth about 84,000 ringgit (24,000 U.S. dollars) was seized from various parties illegally hoarding the sugar. To halt the illegal act, the Malaysian government has offered to reward 10,000 ringgit (2,857.14 U.S. dollars) to those who successfully inform the authorities of sugar hoarding. [Source: Xinhua, August 31, 2009 ]

“The good intention of providing sugar subsidy has motivated the culprits to smuggle the commodity to other neighboring countries where sugar price is higher. Thailand, whose sugar price is 2.50 ringgit (0.71 U.S. dollars)a kilogram, is one of the smuggling destinations. The anti-smuggling division from Perlis, a northern state in Peninsular Malaysia partly contiguous with Thailand, believes that the sugar shortage issue is artificial.

“Although sugar smuggling has lasted for years, the division is of the view that it does not contribute much to the shortage. A total of 18 sugar smuggling activities were detected between January and August in the state of Perlis with 84.24 metric tons of sugar worth 123,330 ringgit (35237.14 U.S. dollars) seized. However, in July and August, only 179 kilogram and 120 kilogram of sugar was seized, an evident showing that some quarters had been stock-piling the sugar, said the division.

“Malaysian Federation of Sundry Goods Merchants' Association president Lean Hing Chuan attributed the sugar shortage to consumers' behavior. When everyone thought grocery stores lack sugar, they would competently piling up sugar at home, causing a fake sugar shortage phenomena, explained Lean. Running out of sugar at stores could also be due to the delay in sugar delivery by sugar suppliers, said Lean.Lean suggested that the Malaysian government do away with the sugar ceiling prices to curb sugar shortage.

“In its recent study, the Malaysian Consumers Protection Association revealed that Malaysians consume 120 grams of sugar a day when they are supposed to consume a maximum of 50 grams.Lean said by abolishing sugar subsidy policy, sugar price would eventually rise, discouraging the public from consuming it.”


Cattle: 909,000; pigs: 1.7 million; chickens: 225 million. [Source: World Almamac]

In spite of being a Muslim country, where the word "pig" can not be used one television and scenes with pigs in them are censored from films, Malaysia has one of largest pig raising industry in Southeast Asia. Although reviled by Muslims, pork is very popular with Chinese.

See Hendra Virus and Nipah Virus Under Diseases

Water buffalos can weigh over a ton, and have traditionally been a measure of wealth. Among some groups in Borneo, the number of stilts holding up a house is supposed to be equal to the number of buffalos possessed by the family. Before marriage the family of the groom is supposed to provide the family of the bride with one buffalo for very stilt on the couple's future house. The tradition has died partly because water buffalos are now worth about $2,000 a piece and the average home has 10 stilts. Nowadays the family of the groom is usually presents a pair of water buffalo.

Fishing and Seaweed Production in Malaysia

Fish catch: 2.02 million metric ton according to the 2013 World Almanac. Fishing accounted for 13.4 percent of the value of agricultural output in 2000 but declined to 11.8 percent by 2006; the government has invested in aquaculture to improve the output of the fishing industry.

Until fairly recently many Malaysians were fisherman. Many of them relied on fish traps known as “kelong”. Many still fish. Most are part of small-scale commercial operation. Many fisherman have other jobs for times when fishing is not good or the e weather is bad.

A Malaysian fisherman was once killed when he was struck and knocked over board by a flying garfish, which was attracted to his boat’s powerful lighting. Garfish are capable of breathing air.

The main shark fishing nations include Argentina, Brazil, Britain, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, the Maldives, Mexico, New Zealand, Pakistan, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and the United States.

Off the coast of Semprona on the eastern coast of Sabah, there are hundred of stilt homes set in shallow water that grow seaweed on monofilament lines and sell it for canned pet food. The homes are sometimes washed away in heavy storms.

Rice-Fish Farming in Malaysia

Ahyaudin b. Ali of the School of Biological Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, wrote: “One of the earliest documented reports on ricefish farming in Malaysia was by Health (1934). Ricefish farming system has been practiced in Southeast Asia since it was introduced from India 1,500 year ago (Tamura, 1961). However, in Malaysia the system cannot be considered as rice-fish culture per se since little effort is directed towards stocking or feeding of fish (Ali, 1990a). [Source: Ahyaudin b. Ali, School of Biological Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, 11800 Minden, Penang, Malaysia]

The development of rice-fish farming system in Malaysia possibly started as an effort by farmers to supplement their diet with readily available and nutritious protein source. Through the years as the price of fish increased, for example the price for keli (Clarias macrocephalus) rose from 50–58 sen per kg in the sixties (Tan et al., 1973) to the current price of 5–6 ringgit per kg, farmers began to sell the fish to supplement their seasonal income. The price would continue to rise in the future in anticipation of further reduction of marine catches in Malaysia and worldwide (Chua, 1986). Further more with more than 50 percent of the animal protein consumed in Malaysia being directly or indirectly fish-based (Chua, 1986) and with further increase in the population, the pressure on fish production will increased. Thus integration of different farming practices such as rice-fish would play a very important role in optimizing land uses and increasing protein outputs, especially so in the rural areas of Malaysia.

In Malaysia, rice-fish farming system developed in the North Kerian District of Perak (Health, 1934). The swampy and bogy characteristics of the soil in the area prevented large-scale mechanization, and in a effect minimised fish reduction problem such as the one that happened in the Muda Agricultural Development Authority (MADA) scheme of Kedah (Ali, 1990b). Although rice double cropping and wide spread use of pesticides and herbicides have led to some reduction in fish harvest, North Kerian remains the most important rice-fish producing area in the nation exporting fish, both in salted-dried or fresh forms, to countries such as Singapore and Thailand (Ali, 1990b).

The current rice-fish production system has been described by Ali (1991). The system is essentially captural in nature whereby wild fish from irrigation canals or sump ponds entered the flooded rice fields early in the season, are trapped and grown together with rice until they are harvested from sump ponds at the end of the rice growing season. Fields preparation such as building perimeter trenches or repairing the dikes are not done. Field management to encourage plankton growth such as lime and organic fertilizers application are also not carried out. Fish are not given supplementary feed during the growing period. Field fertility depends on fertilizers applied to rice consisting of urea (46 percent N) and NPK (17.5-15.5-10.0) applied at the rate of 56 and 112 kg ha-1, respectively (Ali, 1988). The use of sump ponds as refuges for fish during periods of low water level (Ali, 1988) is actually accidental. The sump ponds were originally dug by farmers 80 to 90 years ago to construct levees to be used as storage and drying site for rice before it is sold. However through the years the ponds are used more as refuges for fish and harvesting basins for fish (Ali, 1988).

The field sizes used for rice-fish farming vary from 0.8 to 1.4 ha, whereas the sump ponds may range from 6.5 to 8.0 m diameter and 2.0 m deep (Ali, 1991). The sump ponds are shaded by fruit trees such as coconuts, bananas, mangoes, cassavas, sugar canes and papayas. In few ponds, water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) is kept in order to provide shade and shelter for the fish. In the Kerian District rice fields are prepared by spraying the fields with paraquat-based herbicides to kill emergent aquatic macrophytes such as Cyperus sp., Scirpus grossus, Monochorea sp. and Limnocharis flava. The dead weeds are then manually cut and removed and the soil turned over with scythe for transplanting with rice seedlings (Ali, 1991). During this period, cuts are made in the dikes surrounding the fields to allow irrigated water to enter, thereby allowing also fish fingerlings from the irrigation canals to enter the fields. These fingerlings are from parent stocks left over from the previous season.

Three fish species constituted the main harvest from rice fields. The catfish (Clarias macrocephalus), known as keli bunga in Malaysia, is native and dominant to the area studied. However, further north especially in areas close to southern Thailand the other catfish species (Clarias batrachus) becomes dominant. The snakehead (Channa striatus) is also dominant and command about the same price as the catfish (presently about 5–6 ringgit kg-1). The system is however dominated by the snakeskin gouramy (Trichogaster pectoralis), a herbivore introduced to the area from Thailand in the early 1920's (Soong, 1948). There is however a decline in catch compared to those typically obtained in early 1970's. The decline is much more severe among the snakeskin gouramy than among the omnivorous catfish or carnivorous snakehead . Double cropping and concurrent increase pesticides and herbicides use apparently affected fish species further down in the food chain (Ali, 1988; 1990a). Water quality study conducted during the study (Ali & Ahmad, 1988; Ali, 1990b) indicated optimum quality for fish growth.

Rice-fish farming system is site and socio-culturally specific. Although the current techniques to ricefish farming system can be modified to improve production, it is important to note that fish is secondary to rice, which is still the main component of the system. Further more with the recent increase in rice subsidies, farmers are reluctant to allow rice production to be affected. The current rice-fish farming system is ideal for supplementing income and this becomes more important especially to tenant farmers which form a sizeable portion 60 percent) of rice farmers in the country (Khoo & Tan, 1980). Thus the system is better suited to areas not presently included in the major irrigation schemes such as the MHADA scheme of Kedah where rice farming is carried out at a very intensive level and the subsidy program would enable farmers to make more money from rice than fish.

Two important constraints to higher fish harvest are double cropping of rice with its concurrent limiting factors such as shorter growing season, intensive mechanization and greater use of pesticides and herbicides, and low productivity of the system (Ali, 1990c). The first constraint cannot be avoided, however some aspects of it can be improved or modified to increase fish production. A more prudent use of pesticide and herbicide would lessened the stress on the fish population. In this respect, farmers in the Kerian District have voluntarily reduce pesticides and herbicides use in their farming operations. All the farmers involved in this study have refrained from indiscriminate use of the pesticides and herbicides. This is the direct result of the major outbreak of the ulcerative skin disease in 1984–1985 (Tonguthai, 1985) resulting in poor fish harvest from the rice fields. Although the cause of the outbreak has not been identified, farmers associated it with pesticides and herbicides use and have become more prudent in using the poisons.

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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