Source: Unsplash (Pic by Wilsan U)

In September 2020 following the portfolio reshuffling by Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow, the Agriculture and Agro-based Industries portfolio was renamed Agrotech and Food Security to align Penang’s agriculture sector with technological and industrial innovations so that food security in the state can be strengthened in preparation for future crises.

State executive councillor Dr. Norlela Ariffin who heads the Agrotech and Food Security portfolio believes that smart farming is important to Penang as the state has limited agricultural land. Smart farming applies technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and drones to optimise processes, improve efficiency, and increase the yield while occupying less land.

The state Agriculture Department’s venture into urban farming is backed by the allocation of 2 funds: the Urban Agricultural Development fund of RM200,000 and the ‘Pelan Jana Semula Ekonomi Negara’ (Penjana) fund of RM600,000 in 2020 and 2021. So far, 175 members from 14 Village Community Management Councils (MPKKs) received RM38,000 from Penjana and RM25,850 from the Agriculture Department to support their urban farming initiatives.

Livestock breeders whose income have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic are also recipients of part of the RM76 million Penang People’s Aid Package 2.0 that was announced in May 2020 by the state government. The incentives include animal feed worth approximately RM200,000 as well as other various assistance worth about RM537,000 which can be used to upgrade their farm or purchase new equipment and machine to increase productivity.

In October 2020, the state assembly unanimously passed the Poultry Farming Enactment Bill which regulates poultry farming in the state to ensure quality, hygiene, and safety from diseases. The bill will require poultry farmers to adhere to ‘Good Animal Husbandry Practices’ (GAHP) to prevent environmental pollution and ensure disease control as well as to upgrade their farms to the closed-house farming system. According to data from the Penang Veterinary Services Department (DVS) in 2019, there are 381 poultry farms in the state, of which only 22 farms have converted to the closed-house farming system and 3 have certificates from the Malaysian Good Agricultural Practices (myGAP).

Other initiatives in the works include setting up a deep well water pump to improve the irrigation system for paddy fields, using drones to carry out agricultural activities such as fertilisation to minimise human labour and maximise efficiency as well as establishing vertical farming in schools.