Malayan Food Shortages and the Kedah Rice Industry during the Japanese Occupation

  • Paul H. Kratoska
Part of the Studies in the Economies of East and South-East Asia book series (SEESEA)


Malaya’s export economy took shape during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and was closely linked with the expansion of commercial rice cultivation in mainland South-East Asia. Mining and plantation agriculture brought large numbers of workers to Malaya from China and India, greatly increasing the demand for rice. Conventional wisdom suggested that food for workers in the export sector should be produced locally, but Malaya’s rice industry was small, and with cheap grain readily available in mainland South-East Asia it made economic sense to import rice; by the 1920s, around two-thirds of Malaya’s rice supply was purchased outside the country. As early as 1893,1 critics of this arrangement called attention to three sets of circumstances which could cut off the supply of imported rice: crops in the rice-producing countries that supplied Malaya might fail, international trade might be disrupted by political disputes or military action, and the prices for Malayan exports might collapse. At the time, it was easy to discount these concerns. Burma, the largest single rice exporter in the world, was a near neighbour and like Malaya part of the British Empire. The British Navy dominated the seas of the region. And when Malaya experienced a rubber boom shortly after 1900, the likelihood that the country would be unable to afford to purchase rice seemed increasingly remote, even though the rubber industry itself caused rice imports to increase.


Black Market Rice Mill District Officer Rice Price Japanese Occupation 
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  1. 3.
    R.G. Heath, Malayan Agricultural Statistics, 1949 (Kuala Lumpur: Dept. of Agriculture, Federation of Malaya, 1951), Table 33.Google Scholar

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© Paul H. Kratoska 1998

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  • Paul H. Kratoska

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