On September 13th last week, NAFAS or the National Farmers' Organisation (the Malay name Pertubuhan Peladang Kebangsaan) announced on its Facebook the appointment of Dato Haji Zamri Yaacob, one of its member of the Board of Directors as the new Chairman.
The previous Chairman, Dr Anis Mahmud resigned. The new M&A adopted during the PH government changed the selection process from election in the Annual General Meeting to selection by the BOD.
Zamri was unanimously elected. He has the merit and unanimously accepted by the other members of the Board of Directors.
But the optic is problematic. He is the PM's elder brother and the long and short of public discussion, it will come down to that.
That is unless ....
According to portal Malaysian Gazette, Zamri is a registered member of Pahang Farmers Organisation since 1985.
In 2002, he was awarded the Anugerah Peladang Jaya for the state and national. It proves he is a genuine farmer.
Zamri has been active in the Farmers' Organisation from the local to the state level. He moved his way up from holding positions in local chapter to become the state chairman in 2020.
He has the merit to hold the position. Its on merit consideration that he received no opposition from the PPBM Minister of Agriculture. Apparently, the reluctant Tan Sri Mahiaddin Yassin has no basis to politically oppose.
Nevertheless, it is unavoidable that both mainstream and social media highlighted the announcement as the appointment of PM's elder brother.
One could argue Zamri was not appointed by the PM, elected and not appointed to the position, has merit and long involvement in Farmers' Organisation, and Nazri Aziz could argue PM's brother has to do something.
The cynical and critical will wrongly simplify or slander Ismail Sabri for practising nepotism.
UMNO has gone through this road before. So do other political parties including the previous ruling government, Pakatan Harapan.
The negative perception is unavoidable. That is unless Zamri is willing to reform NAFAS and undertake drastic action for the betterment of farmer. Instead of criticism, he will be celebrated.
Mystery of rural poverty
It is a mystery as to why Malay padi farmers could never achieve a production beyond 4 metric tonne per hectare and Chinese planters could never go lower than 10 metric tonne per hectare.
Where farmers abroad can lead a comfortable life with the same size of land plot, the Malay farmers in Malaysia are generally in a state of poverty, especially the non-land owners. It is found that after adjusting for inflation, the income of rubber tappers are lower today than in the '60s.
All the while politicians been in-denial on the existence of poverty using the excuse it does not cost much for farmers living in the rural area. But why can't farmers be made financial independent and wealthy like their counterparts in Europe, Japan and US?
Putting aside issues of buruecrasy, water management scheduling of Irrigation Department, and labour problems, a private company undertook a study to uncover that the fertilizers and seeds provided by government agencies to Malay farmers are sub-standard and diluted.
It is found that the N, P and K nutrients in the fertilizers given smallholders farmers by Government agencies are watered down through the supply chain and the essential minerals for plant growth can be as low as 20% of the fertilizers used by Chinese farmers.
The seeds used by Chinese farmers are of higher quality and productivity than that provided by Government agencies to Malay farmers.
Among the Malay padi farmers, "padi angin" or padi with no rice content is a common occurrence that it is taken for granted as part and parcel of padi farming. It is suspected there is rampant profiteering practise by suppliers to mix a type of lallang seeds with padi seeds.
Corruption is endemic and it is normal for agricultural officers and technicians to turn a blind eye for kickback.
It is believed that the corruption and short changing practises have been going on at every level of the supply chain since Independence. It is not shocking that leaders calling Malay as indolent has cronies involved in the supply business of shortchanging Malay farmers.
Apparently an investigation have been carried out by a certain government agency and the sample result from the Chemistry Department have proven this is common occurrence.
However, it is so widespread that it need political will for the agency to pursue the perpetrators. This is something Zamri can pull.
Malay farmers' produce ended up being of lower quality resulting in lower pricing in the market. The poor take up lead to lower volume produce.
It is common occurrence in the coffee, and cocoa industry to keep crop prices low for more profit to be gained for further up the value chain in developed countries.
In the planting of poppy for Columbia drug industry, farmers are offered low prices but slightly higher than other crops to make farmers dependent on drug lords for living.
Is it planned in Malaysia for crop prices to remain low to the advantage of the urban rich and keeping farmers to remain poor and dependent on government so they will continue to vote the ruling government?
If Zamri has the political will to take this fight and elevate the livelihood of farmers, more so with the risk of food shortage looming arising from the pandemic, his family link to the PM will be easily forgotten.
The task is insurmountable but if he is up to the challenge and take advantage of the political will, he could make himself relevant and raise the profile of PM.
The first cabinet of Tunku Abdul Rahman had to two brothers.