Political Economy

Coconut Farmers Face Surging Imports in Malaysia

#Malaysia #coconut #imports have seen a notable surge from Dec 2017. Khor Reports’ has taken a preliminary look at some of the data surrounding the story "Millions of local coconuts left unsold," 27 Dec 2018, The Star.

The Department Agriculture reports reports some 80,000 hectares of coconut planted areas mainly in Sabah, Sarawak, Johor, Perak and Selangor, mostly planted by farmers.

A specialist said, "The situation on the ground is bad. Who ever approved the (imports) were doing the local kampong folks a disservice. If you speak to the small farmers on the ground they are annoyed with (the imports). The small players - and with that the voters - will be disadvantaged and they will be confused because they see no action being taken." (Interview, 30 Dec 2018).

Indeed, imports from Indonesia were about 130 million kg in 2016, 180 million kg in 2017, and 187 million kg in 9 months of 2018 (Jan-Sep, the data is not yet available for Oct-Dec 2018) with peak imports of about 25 million kg/month in Mar, Apr, May 2018. 1 kg is about 1 nut.

Jul 2015 - Sep 2018 monthly data. Source: Khor Yu Leng, Khor Reports - Segi Enam Advisors.

Jul 2015 - Sep 2018 monthly data. Source: Khor Yu Leng, Khor Reports - Segi Enam Advisors.

In reviewing the monthly trade data prepared by Khor Reports (see line graph above), a coconut expert noted, “This is very revealing and it is the imports that is causing this problem. There is a glut in the markets, and it is still a problem.” (Interview, 9 Jan 2018).

Imports were equivalent to 15-20% of production in mid-2015 and imports rose to around 55% production-equivalent in Mar-May 2018, around the time of the regime-changing 14th General Election in May 2018. In retrospect, we may ask if coconut problems added to rural angst and the big protest vote among younger voters in rural and semi-urban areas against UMNO-BN.

After the election, it appears that UMNO-BN’s high coconut imports policy was broadly maintained; with imports easing under the new Pakatan Harapan administration, but it remained significantly above trend, Jun-Sep 2018 (see chart below).

The top 4 suppliers of Malaysia imports in Sep 2018 were Indonesia (by far), Philippines, Singapore (surprisingly) and Thailand. Looking at a longer time-frame, coconut imports to Malaysia have risen some 10-fold from mid-2008 to mid-2018, but there was a time period when imports were clamped down, notably mid-2013 to almost mid-2014, the period after the 13th General Election (held in May 2013).

Jul 2008 - Sep 2018 monthly data. Source: Khor Yu Leng, Khor Reports - Segi Enam Advisors.

Jul 2008 - Sep 2018 monthly data. Source: Khor Yu Leng, Khor Reports - Segi Enam Advisors.

Looking ahead. The coconut imports data for Oct 2018 and forward will no doubt be closely watched. The question is: What will be Malaysia’s policy on coconut imports be in view of complaints from local coconut traders and farmers ?

Comparative context. The palm oil sector in Malaysia has also seen domestic stockpiles rising to record highs. Reuters reported, “To counter the Indonesian import, (Minister) Kok said the government is "currently encouraging our companies to use domestically produced palm oil to reduce the stockpile…. By reducing imports, we could see a significant reduction in palm oil stocks in Malaysia and this would boost prices." " For both palm oil and coconut, Indonesia holds significant cost advantage.

Indonesia perspective on farmer interests. In the run up to the Indonesia presidential election, Tempo (9 Jan 2019) reports that "candidate pair number 02 had committed not to use identity politics in the 2019 presidential election...The economic programs are the answer to the problems experienced by people at the grassroots level such as farmers, laborers, and housewives. “When we visit the regions, there must be complaints from residents, especially from farmers,” he said... if Prabowo-Sandiaga becomes president and vice president, they will try to reduce the import of commodities that can be produced in Indonesia." Earlier, SCMP reported (19 Dec 2018) that "Indonesia is the world’s second-largest sugar importer and keeping food prices low is critical for voter support ahead of April’s vote. But the country is also home to a vocal contingent of sugar farmers who want to sell for higher prices.... Indonesia is already the world’s second-largest sugar importer behind China though by some accounts, it is actually first. Raising its import quota would feed growing demand from hungry consumers...Data from state logistics agency Bulog indicates the decision to allow more imported sugar has stabilised the price at about US$1 per kg. This, however, has been seized upon by Widodo’s political rivals as evidence his administration will prioritise consumers at the expense of farmers."

#Jokowi #Prabowo #Sandiaga #sugar #palmoil #coconut #PakatanHarapan #UMNO #import #tradepolicy


Coconuts policy is lead the Ministry of Agriculture. Palm oil policy is led by the Ministry of Primary Industries.

Product: 0801 Coconuts, Brazil nuts and cashew nuts, fresh or dried, whether or not shelled or peeled. For Malaysia, this category is dominated by coconuts.

Malaysia Post-GE14: Preliminary News Dashboard

Khor Reports has consolidated information on Malaysia's post General Election news in the format of a dashboard and map. The sources are public media sources and specialist economic reports. This data summary is preliminary and covers over 100 news items up to end day 31 May 2018. We will update the dashboard periodically. 

More details are available on a customised basis; including data fields on 'Policy, news, action / reaction', 'Linkages & associations', 'News link / Source' and more. Please contact us to find out more.

On Page 1, you can toggle the map view by Category. Click on a particular Category or Business sector or item to gain a more detailed view. The data is all interlinked on the dashboard and the map will adjust accordingly. Page 2 presents key items By Value. Data as at 31 May 2018. Please 'mouse over' to get more details.

Notable items for 31 May after our close (dashboard updated 1 Jun):

a) Consumer Association calls for review of projects under the Penang transport masterplan, reportedly to cost up to RM46 billion.

b) Global Times of China concerned about rights of China enterprises in the HSR and ECRL projects.

c) Khazanah Nasional announces resignations of Najib Razak, Johari Abdul Ghani, and Irwan Siregar.

#Malaysia #PRU14 #GE14 #Mahathir #PakatanHarapan #PoliticalEconomy #MegaProjects #China #ChinaMalaysia #BeltandRoad #OBOR

(c) Khor Reports - Segi Enam Advisors Pte Ltd. 2018. All rights reserved.

Malaysia: The Political-Economy of Land Development (or the Politics of Floods) by KHOR Yu Leng

What are simmering issues for post-GE14?

(Read our summary of high-key issues for GE14 here.)

Bread-and-butter economic issues are regarded as front of mind for the average voter. We covered some of this in our Johor case study, examining the cost of living and housing affordability; with a comparison of a Johor Bahru (urban) household versus a Bukit Tinggi (rural, Felda) household. You should also look at Bank Negara’s concerns and call for a living wage.

So what else might urban-centric voters (and activists) feel some concern about? We look at the simmering issues of governance relating to land development and water in select hot button states, with a special focus on the Peninsular and case studies of Kedah and Kelantan.

First, we look at an an indicator of land activity for 2013-2016 across three states - Johor, Kedah and Kelantan. The greatest land activity (as a ratio of total district area) was in Pendang, Gua Musang and across several districts of Johor. This indicator covers both development and redevelopment economic activities. Heightened land (re)development-clearance should bode well for future incomes, but may cause some short to medium-term discomfort. Urbanites may face delays due to construction and be worried about rising congestion, rural folk may have regular incomes disrupted if there is major oil palm replanting (it takes a few years to mature) and Orang Asli may face local water supply problems and other impacts including minor landslides affecting road access. 

After several years of El Nino-driven dry seasons (when the Peninsular was affected by drifting haze form peat smog and forest fires from Sumatra), it seems that the climatic turn to a regular-wetter situation brings on more flood risk. When this encounters major land development-clearance activities, we run into the Politics of Floods.


Land activity by district 2013-2016, as a proportion of land area - for three states

Development and water

In contrast to high politics, these issues are in the realm of low politics, and are localised or sub-regional issues. There are cases of resistance to rising urban density, water supply outages and extreme events like major flood crises. Malaysia NGOs typically blame deforestation (land clearing) for unusual flooding, as do various experts. In Thailand’s mega floods, the situation was similar, with the problem blamed on development, bad planning and officials, despite expert ambivalence on causality. What is common in various countries post-flood is a crackdown on logging and deforestation.

In the wake of the 2017 massive floods in Penang and Kedah, the Institution of Engineers Malaysia calls for a new comprehensive planning: "the master plan should include the flood mitigation and prevention action plans, for current and future developments, land use changes as well as climatic change factor."


Selected issues:

Fiscal federalism

Stronger state finances are often linked to increased land development (which state administrations fully control). It is regularly noted that Malaysian states rely on revenues from land related activities. Malaysia’s centralised federalism is criticised for a fiscal federalism that needs a fairer and more balanced distribution of revenue collection. At the Federal level, there is notable rising funding to the Prime Minister’s Office, with a large discretionary (development) spending portion and centralised control over even more. Budget experts note that this is often mirrored at the state level, with Chief Ministers having control over large discretionary budgets too, with little to distinguish BN and non-BN run states.

A lawmaker points out that only 2.4% of federal revenue goes back to states. Nevertheless, after the massive flood of 2014, Kelantan has been criticised for over-reliance on funding via concessions and logging. Activists ask its government to find other sources of revenue. Within the bounded context of state finances, it is clear that there is still an expectation that states have better governance and non-land revenues.

Perspectives on development

Land development includes extensification of economic activity with logging and timber plantations depending on the type of forest zones; intensification with forest conversion to agriculture, and agricultural land conversion to non-agriculture; and hyper intensification with upward revised plot ratios for high-density urban landscapes. It also covers large infrastructure projects (E.g. East Coast Rail Link, Pan Borneo Highway) and land reclamations (quite in vogue for large development projects in Penang, Melaka and Johor).

We spoke to 20 expert observers of land development issues (including three civil servants, whose views are featured in Appendix 1) with a semi-structured questionnaire. The key findings are shown in Table 1.a, and displays across-the-board concern about land governance, with a slightly positive view on economic outcomes, and strongly negative views on environmental and socio-economic impacts. Table 1.b presents observers views on policy reforms needed and indicates their economic sector and work geography.

Table 1.a: Views on land development projects - timing, governance, impact

Table 1.a: Views on land development projects - timing, governance, impact

Table 1.b: Views on land development projects - policy reforms needed

Table 1.b: Views on land development projects - policy reforms needed

Land development in Kedah and Kelantan - exploring big data and state budgets

In a preliminary review of land development by extensification, we set geospatial information (satellite imagery on zones of land clearance or tree cover loss for all types of economic development) against public information from state budgets (looking at non-recurring land-related revenue, that is most closely associated with such land development). Figure 1 shows that Kedah gets 50-60% of its revenue from land-related segments and Kelantan’s reliance has dipped to about 30%.

Figure 1: Kedah and Kelantan % state revenue from land, forestry, mineral and water   Note: Based on official audit reports that features top revenue sources, but do not provide the full breakdown of items. These figures will be slightly lower than the full count, as there will be some revenue amounts that are not shown in the “top” sources list.

Figure 1: Kedah and Kelantan % state revenue from land, forestry, mineral and water

Note: Based on official audit reports that features top revenue sources, but do not provide the full breakdown of items. These figures will be slightly lower than the full count, as there will be some revenue amounts that are not shown in the “top” sources list.

Data on tree cover loss should give a fair gauge of land development, but only after we deflate it for the probable ratio of replanting of plantations in Malaysia (using recent national averages); to avoid inflating perceptions on deforestation. In this way, we derive a proxy for greenfield development (land clearance), from two data-sets available on the popular Global Forest Watch platform. Data on land clearance is not provided by states in a timely and comprehensive way. This approach offers an insight to economic analysis opportunities from including novel “big data” sources.

We reckon the above estimates on proxy data results in a conservative (perhaps underestimated) view for Kelantan given that is still a frontier of development (notably in the west and south-west). It should be relatively fair for Kedah which is a long developed state where forest-to-land conversions occurred decades ago (but there is recent activity around the water catchment areas in the north-east). However, with more resourcing a more detailed data study can distinguish true green-field development outside of long-in use areas, and these results should be updated accordingly.

Figure 2 illustrates adjusted data from Global Forest Watch on annual land clearance across a span of 10 years (grouped for apparent up-and-down cycles) for Kedah and Kelantan. The latter may recently have land clearance (ex-plantations) of over 12,000 hectares per year; which appears significantly higher than similar activity in Kedah (dark green versus blue columns).

Figure 2 and Figure 3 show the zones of land clearance-development activities (black-green) for each state that have occurred outside areas that were already in-use by 2000. (This data differs from the Global Forest Watch data referred to above that are used in Figure 4).

Figure 2: Map, Kedah - zones of land clearance

Figure 2: Map, Kedah - zones of land clearance

Figure 3: Map, Kelantan - zones of land clearance

Figure 3: Map, Kelantan - zones of land clearance

The results of matching estimates of land clearance (from Global Forest Watch data sets) against state revenue, the indicative Ringgit per hectare suggests that Kedah reports significantly higher income per unit of land cleared (outside of plantation zones) is shown in Figure 4.

This preliminary review focuses on readily available and timely public information, which are the state revenues. It does not include income that government-linked corporations (GLCs), including Menteri Besar Incorporated (MBI) units, Yaysans (foundations) and others may earn off state land development activity. Further research should cover these data sources. For now, we may note that Kedah reports more in state revenue per hectare of land (development) clearance than does Kelantan (dark blue line versus the light green line in Figure 4). However, it is possible that Kelantan just books more of its land activity earnings elsewhere (in the aforementioned state-linked and other associated entities), but this needs to be clarified by an aggregate disclosure of such information.

Figure 4: Kedah and Kelantan - exploring public data on land (clearance) development and revenues

Figure 4: Kedah and Kelantan - exploring public data on land (clearance) development and revenues

For the sake of improved transparency and governance (an issue strongly felt by the experts interviewed for this paper), it would be important that state administrations evolve to disclose comprehensive and timely information about land (development) clearance and what the state earns from (each hectare of) such activity.

Major findings:

  • Malaysia’s fiscal federalism centralises funding control in the center. At the Federal level, there is notable rising centralised control; and a similar pattern is seen at the state level, with Chief Ministers having control over large discretionary budgets too.

  • There are some obvious risk-gaps between the land development pace set by state administrations and “downstream” planning changes controlled at the Federal level. This results in blame-games between states and the Federal Drainage and Irrigation Department (E.g., Penang blames underspending) and causes states afflicted by record floods to appeal for Federal emergency relief (E.g., aid for the massive 2017 Penang flood). Kelantan faced massive floods in 2014, and experts point to the state’s search for revenue (from logging) and call for a stop to unsustainable land clearance, and better Federal-state cooperation.

  • We spoke to over 60 close observers of land development issues (including 20 experts and three civil servants). There was across-the-board concern about land governance, slightly positive views on economic outcomes, strongly negative views on environmental and socio-economic impacts. All observers were vocal about policy reforms needed, no matter which political coalition runs the state. There is a broad call for greater transparency and public consultation.

  • States can do better to report in a comprehensive way their earnings from land development. This is currently spread across State Budget and other entities such as state-level state-owned enterprises or GLCs (including Menteri Besar Incorporated) and state and other associated Yayasans (foundations).


Khor Yu leng is an independent geo-data economist at Khor Reports - Segi Enam Advisors.

This preliminary report builds on the research findings from the author’s interviews with 60 sources in late 2017 to early 2018, including those with state and budget specialists. Assisted by Jeamme Chia for geospatial data analysis and Sharon Tan for expert opinions on development issues.

#Malaysia #PRU14 #GE14 #PoliticalEconomy #Development #Flood #Governance #Deforestation #GlobalForestWatch #KhorReports #Data #DataScience

(c) 2018, Khor Yu Leng. All rights reserved.


Appendix 1: Viewpoints from three civil servants on governance in land development

Three civil servants in Peninsular Malaysia were among a group of expert observers on land development issues interviewed in late January to early February 2018. Among the often heated narratives of businessmen, NGOs and politicians, this segment often lacks a voice; and so we present their views here verbatim.


UndiTraffic Data Collaboration with The Edge

#KhorReports is participating in a #TrafficData study with @The Edge Markets!!

Much to the surprise of Malaysian voters, polling day will take place on Wednesday (May 9). Disgruntled voters complain that it will be “Hari Raya and Chinese New Year rolled into one,” expecting road traffic snarl ups. Might that be true?

We are working with The Edge Malaysia to set up the Undi Traffic for the 14th general election (GE14) to examine how traffic builds up in Peninsular Malaysia. This review of journey times from the #Google Traffic Layer, will come online in just a few days, starting Monday, May 7, 2018.

#PRU14 #GE14 #PoliticalEconomy #Malaysia #Data #DataScience


Malaysia: The High Key GE14 Battle by KHOR Yu Leng

Campaigning is in full swing for Malaysia’s 14th General Election (GE14). The focus is on speculation about how Malay voters (especially rural) will choose between Najib’s Barisan Nasional and Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan.

Please also read our review on issues of low politics:  Malaysia - The political-economy of land development (or the politics of floods) by KHOR Yu Leng

High-key issues and “your vote is secret” dominate in the Peninsula

Many eyes are on social media exchanges on mobile phones. There has been a major change in social media reach between GE13 and GE14. Some urban chat groups are full of worries about whether Malaysia will suffer a debt trap like Sri Lanka, overburdened by (white elephant) infrastructure projects. China projects have featured in headlines too. There are anecdotes on Whatsapp of how Malay families are split on whom to support.

BN's "Long live the people" banner printed in China. Photo: R. Chua

BN's "Long live the people" banner printed in China. Photo: R. Chua

In fact, Malay voters are keeping their views close to their chest, and the likes of Rafizi’s Invoke Malaysia have been reporting a rising portion of “undecideds / my vote is secret” in their polling results (the latest poll shows Malay fence sitters suddenly joined by a rising number of Chinese too). A retired Malay civil servant said: “You must understand my culture, such silence means they are making up their mind. This is a tough sign for BN.”  Voters are also asking if messages about cash handouts conditional on sworn support are fake news.

Mahathir’s leadership of a united opposition under Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat captures interest and is transformational. The recent emergence of Rafidah Aziz and Daim (“the Oracle”) Zainuddin as opposition supporters add to this. The surprise split in the family of the late and respected Tok Guru of PAS appeared with Nik Omar nominated as a candidate for Amanah.

Nik Omar as a guest at Bangi, Selangor

Nik Omar as a guest at Bangi, Selangor


Mahathir and Nik Omar are seen as galvanising a wide spectrum of Malay voters. They spoke to 10,000 in Putrajaya (the administrative capital of Malaysia and a Barisan Nasional stronghold) while another 60,000 viewed them on live webcast.  5,000 people joined Mahathir, Daim, Rafidah in Malacca.The issues they address are high key.

The Navy Chief has openly told Navy personnel that their vote is secret and they are free to make their own choice, reminding them to refrain from political activity. The Inspector-General of Police assured his personnel similarly. These seem to be in reaction to Mahathir’s recent open letters to the armed forces chiefs and the police force.


In GE13 there were over 90,000 votes cast in military-based polling stations and almost 50,000 in police-based. Here, they voted 80% and 84% for Barisan Nasional, respectively; and the votes cast for PAS candidates was 2-4% in aggregate (but under the circumstance of PAS being part of the opposition coalition).
— Data: Election Commission and estimates by the author

Climbing down from high politics and big business, we have Malaysian voters feeling the pinch of the cost of living amidst relatively stagnant incomes and rising cost of living pressure (Read our Johor case study, examining the cost of living and housing affordability for urban and rural folk; and Bank Negara’s concerns about a living wage). The effect of the GST and the long term weakening of the Malaysian Ringgit does not help, but a pre-election currency appreciation and rising oil prices (while pump prices are carefully kept on hold) help the Najib administration in various ways.

What hope amidst mudslinging?

While there is a litany of criticisms on policy and governance on the long-ruling coalition, the opposition have not been spared complaints. The rumblings against the opposition run states (including anti-corruption allegations in Penang and Selangor) are often defended as politically motivated. The asymmetry of findings on 1MDB-related allegations (multiple foreign prosecutions and asset seizures, plus mega-yacht Equanimity and big headlines in Indonesia versus domestic “no case - no action”) is obvious. It has those in Malaysia (and globally) caught up in similar concerns (but involving lesser alleged amounts) pointing to the US Department of Justice 1MDB case in mitigation.

Given mudslinging across the political spectrum, some urbanites think that it’s not about who will govern better. The more gloomy ask this: “What is the difference?” The optimistic point out that checks and balances are necessary to have a responsible government, and that can only happen if those who govern know they will be held to account. So they refute all those who say that nothing will change, even if they vote for the (tarnished) opposition.

The wags point out that voters should choose the opposition even if there are shortcomings. Then, Malaysians can enjoy having (the alleged governance-challenged) Barisan Nasional as watchdogs, keen to be voted back in the next time. Then vote out the “opposition” if it underperforms, and bring back Barisan Nasional. And so on. But of course, urban intellectuals point out that there also needs to be reform of the Malaysia electoral system.

East Malaysia’s misgivings about “Malaya”

As the Opposition in the Peninsula pressed onwards with criticisms towards the ruling government, the Najib Administration spent 2016 - 2017 negotiating significant governance-related deals with East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak. Both states have long held misgivings about the Federal Government’s focus on Peninsular Malaysia or “Malaya”, especially with regards to economic development. Due to their large non-Muslim populations there have also been clear misgivings, notably in Sarawak, about PAS’ push for the introduction of hudud. Barisan Nasional is seen as an enabler for the tabling of Hadi Awang’s RUU355 private member bill in Parliament.

In 2017, the Sarawak state government sent a team to review the recently declassified documents pertaining to the Malaysia Act of 1963 (MA63), and returned with findings related to the rights of Sarawak on land and sea matters.

Furthermore, in recent years Sarawak undertook a series of actions to regain control over the lucrative oil and gas industry, including introducing a moratorium on employing non-Sarawakians in Petronas, establishment of Petroleum Sarawak (PETROS), and initiated a takeover full regulatory oversight of upstream and downstream oil and gas operations from Petronas. Sarawak continued to exercise its MA63 rights and pursuit of self-governance through the acquisition of Bakun dam (the largest potential source of hydroelectricity energy in Sarawak with 2,400 MW installed capacity), and the establishment of the Sarawak Development Bank.

Issues in Sabah include security concerns that spilled over from the 2013 standoff between Malaysian security forces and Sulu insurgents in Lahad Datu (early on attributed to a land conflict or misunderstanding and later overtaken by Suluk territorial claims), misgivings about the withholding of rights under the Malaysia Act of 1963, and transportation infrastructure concerns across the state.

While Sarawak’s political class appears very united, Sabah will face a political contest, with the challenge brought by Shafie Apdal’s Sabah Heritage Party (Warisan). A possible voter swing is eyed. This has also been characterised anti-corruption allegations (Shafie called to MACC) and intra-family political rivalry. With a pact (but not a formal alliance), can Warisan bring crucial seat numbers to the Pakatan Harapan challenge for the mandate to rule Malaysia?

Heavy-handed moves amidst expectation of an “easy win”

Polling day is on Wednesday, 9 May 2018. The midweek election is unprecedented and is expected to suppress voter turnout.  We are keeping an eye on how up to 3.5 million Malaysian voters get on the road, needing to head back to their hometowns or villages to cast their vote.

The international consensus seems to be for an easy Najib win (with gerrymandering, malapportionment and other tactics), but with more seats for Pakatan Harapan. Some regular urban voters ask if Najib-BN’s recent slew of heavy-handed moves signal that things are worse for BN than they had realised. These include the deregistration of Mahathir’s party that unexpectedly pushed the opposition under one flag. The midweek polling day gave rise to a social media movement (but it has come under cyber attack). Mahathir is being investigated for fake news as he alleged sabotage that grounded his jet on nomination day. His picture is being removed from posters, with new restrictions on campaigning; while Bersih asks about like action against Barisan Nasional figures. Perhaps it is no surprise that so many media outlets across Malaysia are referring to GE14 as “the mother of all elections”.

Assisted by Jeamme Chia.

#Malaysia #PRU14 #GE14 #PoliticalEconomy #NajibRazak #GE14chedet 

(c) 2018, Khor Yu Leng. All rights reserved.