What’s Happening in Malaysia #2: Organic Farming (Part One)

The MESYM team attended the public forum for organic farming organised by CETDEM (“What’s Happening to Organic Farming in Malaysia” – coincidentally a similar title with our feature series) on 25 May, and left with some interesting information that we would like to share with you. This will be Part One out of a two-part series. Part Two can be found here.

The public forum was held in Sin Chew Cultural Hall, and opened with an address by CETDEM Chairman Ir. Gurmit Singh, followed by a panel discussion with Dr. Anni Mitin from Persatuan Pengguna-Pengguna Standard Malaysia, Mr. Tai Seng Yee from Zenxin Organic Food Sdn Bhd, and Ir. Gurmit Singh, moderated by Pn. Aini Zakaria, former MARDI researcher. There was a Q&A session for about an hour after the panel discussions. The information below is based on the panel presentations and responses to questions from the floor.

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Panel of discussion, from right to left: Pn Aini Zakaria (moderator), Mr. Tai Seng Yee, Dr. Anni Mitin, Ir. Gurmit Singh

Firstly, what is organic farming?

Organic farming is farming that avoids use of all synthetic agro-chemicals, and relies instead on extensive use of compost, derived as much as possible from on-site resources. Multiple cropping with intercropping, crop rotation etc. is encouraged. The farmers use green manure and soil enhancers such as Bokashi, and protect the soil through techniques like mulching. Organic farming is integrated farming and involve minimal external energy inputs. There should be quality control through 3rd party inspection.

What are the organic certifications used commonly in Malaysia?

Commonly used are SOM (Skim Organik Malaysia) and NASAA (National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia). SOM is a certification programme developed by the Department of Agriculture of Malaysia to certify organic farms that operate according to its guidelines and criteria. NASAA is an Australian certification, accredited by the IOAS, an international non-profit organisation that accredits certification schemes for organic agriculture.

Click here for the PDF of the SOM Standard from DoA.

What is the market situation of organic products in Malaysia?

It is generally agreed by the panel that good official data is difficult to get. The market size is estimated to be about RM200mil, which is relatively small, as the cash crops (such as oil palm) are usually not organic. From the year 2001 to 2012, Malaysia’s organic agriculture increased in size from 131ha to 2700ha. The following photo shows figures cited in the presentation of Mr. Tai, though he explained that the real figures could be as much as two times more, due to under-reporting.

Market situation of organic agriculture in Malaysia

Market situation of organic agriculture in Malaysia

Where is Malaysia in relation to the world?

Within Southeast Asia, there are only three countries that have fully implemented an organic certification system (with international accreditation): Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. Within Asia, the big producers of organic agriculture are China, India, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam. The big consumers are Taiwan, Korea and Japan.

As mentioned before, Malaysia’s land mass for organic agriculture is about 2,700ha, which is miniscule compared to 3.6mil ha in Asia (and 32mil ha as the world total). The Asian market is valued over $1bil, and the world market over $54.9bil. There are more than 1.8mil organic producers in the world, and 24 countries have more than 5% of their land mass occupied by organic agriculture. In Malaysia less than 0.1% of our land is organic agriculture.

What are the consumers’ responsibilities and rights with regards to organic products?

Food is our basic need and right. Consumers’ responsibilities are to educate themselves to be critical, to ask the right questions based on the right information. Consumers need to have the social concern and environmental awareness on the benefits of organic farming, and show their support through buying organic. Consumers should not expect the cheapest prices for organic farmers compared with the chemically produced; and farmers have to be scrupulous in providing good quality produce (good organic veges should not be wilted and holey, for instance).

Consumers have the rights to be protected from hazards to their health and safety and to have access to consumer information and education (environmental, social and economic impacts of their choice) to make informed decisions. They should have access to a wide range of choices, the rights to be heard and the possibility to seek effective redress.

Attendees at CETDEM's public forum on organic farming

Attendees at CETDEM’s public forum on organic farming

Part Two will address the certification process of SOM, as well as problems and challenges to the sector.

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