RICE GROWING in Malaysia are the third import sector in agriculture industries after oil palm and rubber. The granary area grown by paddy (Oryza sativa) to meet about 70% of the Malaysia Self Sufficient Level (SSL). From my experience the rice productivity gain is driven by soil quality. Soil quality variables which include bulk density, organic carbon content, nutrient element content, soil porosity, soil aggregate stability index and others are key determinants of the overall rice growth performance and productivity. In general, actually the rice cultivation techniques, diversified crop cultivation pattern which integrates alternative upland crop planting via rotation has long been associated with soil quality improvement, however, no such methods are practiced in Malaysia. Rice growing areas in Malaysia are distributed in a wide range of soil types include organic clay, brown clay, Jawa, Sedu, Bakau, Bernam, Serong and others. These soil types of verities by their unique rhizosphere microbiome and inherent nutrient composition. Normally in high performing rice granaries such as Sabak Bernam and Tanjung Karang distracts, the soils are generally less acidic (pH 4 - 5) compared to low performing rice granaries (pH < 4). For this article in "Anim Agriculture Technology" blogs I would like to share an information about the resilience of soil health as a key determinant to paddy and rice production in Malaysia.
The information gained from Department of Agriculture shows that the soil acidity level increases with the oxidation of pyrite-bound sediments distributed mainly in the coastal plains of Malaysia. Acid-sulfate soil (ASS) contains pyrite (FeS2) which releases sulfuric acid upon oxidation. It is high in aluminium and iron content and deficit in phosphorus. Pyrite oxidation causes sulfuric acid drainage and dissolves the bioavailable iron for plant uptake. As a result, plant nutrition and subsequent growth and development are adversely affected. Agricultural ASSs are subjected to amelioration with basalt, ground magnesium, limestone and organic compounds as a soil pH corrective measure. Rice granaries distributed on ASS are treated using lime sources such as ground magnesium limestone (GML), hydrated lime and liquid lime. Liming increases the cost of production as at least 4 tonnes of GML per ha is required for a decent production of 3.5- 4.0 mt/ha of rice under ASS system. Actually, the sustainable agriculture and food safety are the cores of good agricultural practice (GAP). First mooted by FAO in 2003 in which this practice not only focuses on preserving the environment, but also accounts for the welfare, safety and labour health. In Malaysia there are report from DOA mention that the first certification scheme constructed based on Malaysian Standard MS 1784:2005 Crop Commodities - Good Agriculture Practices (GAP) known as Good Practice Scheme of Malaysia (SALM) was drawn up by Department of Agriculture in 2002. Under rebranding measure, SALM became MyGAP in 2013 (My = Malaysia). For a farm to be certified, it is evaluated on the aspects of its environmental setting, verification of farm practices and safety of farm products, incorporating traceability and ensuring adequate workers’ welfare within the farm. As the benchmark for MyGAP is against the international GAP certification scheme, it allows for Malaysian produce to penetrate into the global market and gain better recognition and acceptance. However, the numbers for paddy farms adopting this scheme is very low for the farmers being old and used to conventional farm practices are inept in precision farming or precise application of fertilizer inputs. Also, the lack of incentive or very little incentive to acquire farming mechanization had derailed the farmers. Based on a study on 80 paddy farmers, 80% practiced unsustainable paddy farming with a score of less than 40.0 on a scale of 0 -100, 2.5% in the range of intermediate sustainability with none of the farmers close to being sustainable. The result is an indication that farmers were not following the Paddy Check guideline and are using excessive fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide which contravened MyGAP. Generally most farmers are receptive of sustainable agriculture as it compromises on profitability and maximizing productivity. Moreover, the lack of support for the certification was also due to the failure to differentiate myGAP and non-MyGAP rice. The non-existent reward for good quality and safe rice produced in a sustainable manner had dampened not only the MyGAP practitioners but also discouraged other farmers from adopting the stringent guideline. But all is not doom and gloom, since recently in May 2021, the first MyGAP rice grown in KETARA, Terengganu hit the market.