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Water management, policies and legislation related to water use in agriculture


The responsibility for water resources planning and development is shared by various government agencies. Malaysia has no single water resources authority, which might provide an overall coordinated approach to planning and integrated river management.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industries (MoA) has the mandate to transform the agriculture and agro-based industry into a modern, dynamic and competitive sector, to position Malaysia as a major world food exporter and to develop the agriculture sector as the country’s engine of growth.

MoA’s Division of Irrigation and Agricultural Drainage (BPSP) is responsible for the planning, implemention and operation of irrigation, drainage and flood control projects throughout the country, notably:

  • preparing the criteria and standard policy for the implementation of agricultural infrastructure;
  • planning, implementing and assessing agricultural infrastructure and agricultural drainage development programmes;
  • providing technical services to departments under the ministry; and
  • providing and developing an inventory system as well as irrigation and drainage infrastructure database.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE), which has been assigned the task of formulating, managing and enforcing policies, strategies and programmes related to natural resources. There is no dedicated department within the ministry that could provide the full scope of technical support to carry out this function with regard to water (Hanapi, 2011).

The Department of Irrigation and Drainage at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is in charge of flood mitigation, river and coastal management, hydrology, urban drainage and dams.

In the water supply sector, the Public Works Department (PWD), under the Ministry of Public Works, is responsible for the planning, implementation and operation of urban water supply projects. However, in line with the Government’s privatization policy, many water supply projects have been taken over by water supply companies or privatized.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) provides untreated but drinkable water to rural communities not served by the local water authorities. The MOH also monitors water quality at water treatment plant intakes as well as the quality of water within the distribution system for compliance with national drinking water standards.

The control of water pollution is the responsibility of the Department of Environment (DOE), which is empowered to enforce compliance with effluent standards for point sources of pollution. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government is responsible for compliance with regulations and standards on sewerage works which have been privatized to a national sewerage company.

The Muda Agricultural Development Authority (MADA) is a semi-autonomous agency, which came into effect in 1969 and was formally established in 1970. Statutorily responsible to the MoA, and under the budgetary control of the Ministry of Finance, MADA is responsible for operating and improving the irrigation system and its area and supplying extension, credit and other services to farmers. It also has been innovative and active in the planning of improvements, project socio-economic evaluation, and so on.

Water management

Malaysia has recently decided to improve its strategic target of rice self-sufficiency to 100 percent. This has important implications for water allocation to agriculture. At the same time, the Division of Irrigation and Agricultural Drainage (BPSP) of the MoA has received significant budgets to support this new policy and, therefore, has an opportunity to address problems related to managing demand or improving efficiency by modernizing the systems. One approach suggested by BPSP is to develop new irrigation schemes (as commercial plantations) in areas with low population pressure, such as eastern Malaysia.

As far as existing systems are concerned, the hotspot for water allocation is the MADA irrigation system, which produces 40 percent of national rice production. MADA has been a priority national project since the First National Plan. As the largest national granary area, concentrating over 40 percent of rice production, it has national strategic significance. The main objective of water resources development in the northern basins has been to supply water to MADA. Increasingly the Muda and Kedah basins have been interconnected and now serve three states as well as other water users.

Kedah State is an agricultural state and thus poor almost by definition. With the announced creation of a ‘State Water Resource Authority’ in Kedah State in 2010, tensions around the allocation of water to MADA are bound to increase between state and federal level on the economic objectives of water resources management (supply to industries, potential hydropower generation, water supply). In spite of new plans for further water resources management, water supply to irrigation and the performance of MADA are bound to come under closer scrutiny at national and local levels.


In 1999, it was estimated that fees collected from farmers cover only 10-12 percent of the actual operational cost. The Government does not seek full cost recovery because the farming community is considered a low-income group. A total of US$917 million have been spent on irrigation development by the Government during the period 1970-2000.

Policies and legislation

In line with the Third National Agricultural Policy, as well as the vision of the country’s leadership, an objective of the Ninth Malaysia Plan (2006-2010) is to activate the industrialization of the country’s agriculture sector. This would reactivate the development of the agricultural sector and thus transform it into one of the nation’s engines of growth. The plan supports agricultural irrigation projects.

Although, either directly or indirectly, much legislation touches on water resources, most of the existing laws are considered outdated. The Water Act of 1920 is inadequate for dealing with the current complex issues related to water abstraction, pollution and river basin management.


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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