The Sarawak government will assess the effectiveness of the ammophos fertiliser subsidy for 50,000 registered hill padi farmers in the state to improve production yields at the end of the planting season, Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan said today.

Dr Chan, who is also State Modernisation of Agriculture Minister, said this was the first time that the federal government was allocating RM14.6 million as an incentive, in the form of fertiliser, pesticides and tools, to help hill padi farmers under the Food Supply Guarantee programme.

“All these subsidies must be used. If they (farmers) sell them to somebody else, what is the point of providing them with fertilisers. You might as well give them money instead,” he told reporters after distributing 25kg bags of ammophos fertilisers to 2,017 hill padi farmers in Siburan district in Siburan, about 38 km from here.

Under the programme, each farmer was entitled to two bags of fertiliser per hectare, which yields an average of 600 kg per ha and fetched about RM2,400, he said.

In the wake of the fertiliser price hike, which saw rising agricultural input costs including the cost of fertilisers at RM213.83 per 25kg-bag early last year from RM35.55 in 2007, the subsidy was to lig hten the burden of those opting for hill padi cultivation, he said.

The price dropped slightly to RM165 per bag at the end of last year.

Chan said the farmers were encouraged to engage in double and triple rice-planting season per annum to increase rice production through mechanisation as the state’s self-sufficiency was only 53 per cent at present.

The ministry was embarking on a pilot project involving an initial 1,660ha for which a total of 3,500ha would be available for commercial wet padi cultivation in Sri Aman, he said.

He said that through assistance from the state Agriculture Department, there was a need to turn rice cultivation into a profitable venture so that local farmers do not switch to other cash crops.