KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Malaysia's government has reassured the country that enough rice is available 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 last week 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 locally produced rice is capped at 55 cents for 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 India and 18 other countries restricted rice exports to cater to 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," 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."
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said recently that it will take time to resolve the issue. He was quoted by the national Bernama news agency as saying the government will provide $85 million in subsidies to government facilities such as army and police camps and schools to use imported rice so there will be more local rice for the market.
He warned that anyone found hoarding rice would be arrested. "Anyone who dares to carry out this dastardly act to capitalize on the people's misery will face the full brunt of the law," he said.
Mohamad said the government will increase distribution of local rice to rural areas. He said it will also subsidize the price of imported rice for two poorer states on Borneo island to ensure an adequate supply. 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 made the comments at a news conference ahead of a meeting of Southeast Asian agriculture and forestry ministers that began Wednesday.