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Malaysia is a South-East Asian country, comprising Peninsular Malaysia, and the States of Sabah and Sarawak located on the island of Borneo. Malaysia is located in the immediate north of the Equator line, and is separated from Sabah and Sarawak by the South China Sea. The climate is tropical, that is, warm and humid throughout the year. Annual rainfall varies from 2000 mm to 2500 mm. Locations at higher altitudes have cold temperatures. Malaysia’s population, ethnically quite diversified, is estimated at 28 million people (2010). The capital of Malaysia is Kuala Lumpur.

The country is ruled by a king whose role is largely ceremonial. Malaysia is a federation of 13 states and three federal territories. Each state is divided into districts which are sub-divided into mukim. Mountains which divide the country’s east and west coasts are heavily forested. In terms of economic growth in the region, Malaysia has one of the most impressive records. The national GDP in 2011 was about $450 billion.

Over the years, the agriculture sector has declined in terms of contribution to the GDP-- from 38 percent in 1962 to just 8.3 percent in 2005. Similarly, the employment in the agriculture sector has been steadily declining as farming follows more labor saving technologies and the displaced labor shift to other sectors to earn higher wages. In 2010, agriculture employed only 10.9 percent of the total work force. However agriculture is still economically important as major export income comes from palm oil exports. Landholdings are generally small. Average size of farms in Peninsular Malaysia is about two hectares, in Sabah about 3.5 hectares and about eight hectares in Sarawak. Main crops are rice, rubber and oil palm, but food crops, vegetables, fruits and spices are also grown. During the last five years attempts have been made to revive the agriculture sector. Food crops are also being emphasized in the interest of national food security.

In terms of donor assistance to Malaysia, Japan has been quite active. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has a number of regional projects which also cover Malaysia. Thanks due to its sustained economic growth, Malaysia is now a relatively well developed country and keen to share its experience and technical expertise with less developed countries. The Malaysian Technical Cooperation Program (MTCP), started in 1980, is a bilateral initiative—evidence of the country’s commitment to South-South Cooperation. MTCP focuses primarily on capacity building and human resource development. Presently, the program serves 135 countries in different regions of the world, and involves sending Malaysian experts to other countries, and the organization of training courses. Some of the countries which have benefited from the program are Kyrgyzstan, Namibia, Cambodia, Algeria, Tanzania, South Africa, and Sudan. Technical assistance is provided in a number of fields including agriculture.


Although Malaysia gained independence in 1957, the Department of Agriculture was established as early as 1905. Initially, the department’s technical efforts focused on crop research, provision of technical expertise to farmers, and business expansion services to small-scale farmers. The department was also responsible for developing the rubber industry but in view of the industry’s tremendous potential and high demand by the farmers, this responsibility was transferred to the Rubber Research Institute of Malaysia which was established in 1926. 

At the beginning, one main function of the department was to implement government agricultural policies. Under the department’s guidance, enactments were approved to induce the development and conservation of land rights. In 1974, when the Malaysia Federal Agreement was signed for the establishment of the state governments, a provision was made for the establishment of the state department of agriculture in each individual state. These state departments of agriculture were responsible for implementing development programs in order to boost the small farm sector. With the establishment of institutions like the Federal Agriculture Marketing Agency (1965), the Malaysia Agriculture Research and Development Institute (MARDI) (1970), and Agriculture Development Board (1973), the Department of Agriculture was restructured to assume new functions. The provision of public agricultural extension to the farmers has always been one of the key functions of the department. MARDI was established for providing technological support for agricultural advancement of the country, but its role has also been redefined in line with the global and national developments. 

In spite of reduced contribution of the agriculture sector to the national GDP over the years, the Government of Malaysia has been reviving the sector under the Ninth Malaysia Plan (2006- 2010) with the objective of making agriculture the third engine of growth in the national economy. The emphasis is on “New Agriculture” which will involve large-scale commercial farming, wider application of modern technologies, production of high quality and value added products, advancement of biotechnology, increased convergence with ICT, and the participation of farmers and skilled workforce. The government would like to see the food commodities sub-sector to grow at an average rate of 7.6 percent per year through improvements in efficiency and productivity as well as expansion in the cultivated area. In a nutshell, the government wants to treat agriculture as a business, even for small farmers and expects extension services to provide relevant advice not only to the farmers but private entrepreneurs as well. 

The Center for Extension, Entrepreneurship and Professional Development (APEEC) of the Universiti Putra Malaysia, was established in July 2006, and hosted the International Conference on Agricultural Extension (AGREX’10) from 26 to 28 October, 2010. This event showed the importance of extension for the Government of Malaysia.

Andrea Bohn,
24/01/2011 06:29