Malaysia: Padi farmers still fearing the worst after bad season

ALLISON LAI The Star 10 Apr 17;

SABAK BERNAM: Four months after padi fields in Sabak Bernam were ravaged by a bacterial disease, farmers here remain unsure about the resilience of the seedlings for the new planting season.

The spectre of the bacterial leaf blight (BLB) disease, which destroyed more than half of the crops during the last padi season in Sekinchan and Sungai Besar, is still hanging over their heads.

Farmer Baharum Muhammad, 55, said he was unsure about the type of padi to grow after losing tens of thousands of ringgit planting the MR284 and CL2 seedlings in the last two seasons.

“It was disastrous both times. The disease attacked the seedlings of the varieties that I planted in most of my 10 lots of field (each lot is about 1.2ha).

“My padi yield went down by 50% even after I managed to stop the infection from spreading to other lots by using pesticide,” he said in an interview.

For now, he admitted to having no faith in the seedlings.

“I need time to make a good decision this time. I can go bankrupt if the same situation happens again,” he said.

Baharum, however, noted that many far­mers have started preparing for the current padi planting season, so he might consider MR297 – a relatively new variety by Mardi that his friends had tried and found it to be resistant against diseases.

Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali visited the place on Friday and handed out RM8.5mil in aid to 8,935 farmers who suffered losses due to the disease last season.

It was reported in December last year that some 4,440ha of padi fields in Sabak Bernam were infected with BLB, which dried up the leaves and killed the plants.

The BLB infection, which recurred after the last one that happened during the second harvest season in 2013, was said to be the worst in 30 years in Sekinchan.

The crops were slashed by almost 50% to 70% following the infection, with more than 90% of the 1,296ha of padi fields affected.

Losses were estimated to be more than RM5mil as most of the affected farmers had planted the MR284 seedlings then.

They also cultivated other strains such as MR220, MR219 and MR263. But all of them, including MR284, were not resilient varieties especially against BLB.

Zulkifli Mohd Ramli, 45, who has been farming for 14 years on 10 leased lots in Parit 3, said that even seedlings that were certified by the Agricultural Department could still face similar problems.

“The authorities must ensure that their research and development of new seedlings are comprehensive with actual trials because large scale padi planting is exposed to many exterior threats that could affect the yield.

“More should be done to ensure the seedlings are not prone to diseases before they are made available to farmers,” he said.

Zulkifli, whose yield reduced by 60% and suffered losses of over RM40,000 in the last season, said that seedling suppliers were also responsible in checking the product’s shelf life and storage conditions.

“Old or expired seedlings are prone to have problems, while proper storage of seedlings ensures they are not spoiled easily,” he added.

Romli Parmin, 59, from Parit 1 Timur, shared the same view, saying that more checks and tests were needed because far­mers could not face losses anymore.

“I planted MR284 on half of my lots back then. It was terrible. I only managed to save 50% of the plants with an organic pesticide.

“Luckily I also have other varieties planted, such as MR220 and MR297,” he said, adding that he was going for MR297 in the current season.

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