- Published on Monday, 19 December 2016 08:30
- Written by Syareen Majelan
Malaysians are blessed with an abundance of food that we can enjoy that sometimes we tend to waste it.
But we need to remember that without food security, our food supply could suddenly simply run out and we would come face to face with a crisis.
Did you know Malaysia faced a food crisis back in 2008? Several crops such as rice, wheat and corn depleted drastically in producing countries that it affected imports to Malaysia.
Our country felt the pressure especially when key rice exporters in this region like Thailand and Vietnam stopped exporting their rice so that they could cater to their domestic demand.
Many of us might have forgotten about the crisis but the government did not and has since increased the nation’s rice stockpile so that we would be prepared if something were to happen.
Recently during the Malaysia Agriculture, Horticulture and Agrotourism (MAHA) Fair 2016 closing ceremony, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said that Malaysia is aiming to be self-sufficient by 2050, where we no longer need to import food as there would be enough local food production to sustain people by then and with surplus to export.
“We hope to have a population of 50 million in 2050 when the National Transformation (TN50) is achieved.
“We don’t want to import food from other nations anymore. Instead, with the best technology, food in the country will be enough for us and also to export,” he said, as reported by The Star.
As 2050 is still some time away, what are we currently doing to reach that target?
Malaysia Is Ranked 35th In The Global Food Security Index
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations defined food security as ‘a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life’.
Currently, Malaysia is ranked 35th in the Global Food Security Index Ranking published by The Economist, and Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic and International) Prof Datuk Dr. Mad Nasir Shamsudin said that the level of food security in Malaysia is stable but fragile.
He said that we currently have a stable supply because it is supported by food imported from foreign countries but it is fragile because the 2008 situation can happen again if we rely too much on imported food.
In terms of food security, we are not faring too badly as can be seen from the self-sufficiency levels (SSL) of our basic food products. Self-sufficiency for rice is at 72 per cent, chicken at 105 per cent, eggs at 120 per cent, fish at 90 per cent, tropical fruit at 100 per cent, tropical vegetables at 90 per cent, meat at 25 per cent and liquid milk at 57 per cent.
However, our food import bill for 2015 was RM45.4 billion, with the food trade deficit raised staggeringly from RM11bliion in 2009 to RM18.1billion in 2015, and this is a cause for concern because we are still heavily reliant on imported food.
“If anything happens to the producing country, it will cause chaos to our country. Studies show that chaos would happen four days after a country does not have food supply,” he was reportedly saying after being a panellist in a forum entitled ‘Sekuriti Makanan Negara: Sampai Bila?’ held in UPM last June.
He also said that stockpile of food in developed countries could last for up to six months, which is much bigger than the 45 days that we have.
“Studies show that a country needs a stockpile of at least six months as preparation to face any disaster.
“We need to prolong our stockpile because in normal conditions we would be able to survive but what would happen if a disaster happens?” said the expert in agricultural and resource economics.
Kedah Used To Be The Rice Bowl Of M’sia But Over The Years The Size Of Paddy Fields Have Shrunk
The security issue of relying too much on imported food especially if a problem arises in the producing country was also noted by Federation Of Malaysian Consumers Association (FOMCA) Vice-President Mohd Yusof Abdul Rahman.
He proposed for Malaysians to slowly change the food we consume to those that can be grown and obtained locally so that we would not struggle if anything happens.
“We need a method so that we do not need to rely on food from outside so much such as wheat flour.
“We are too reliant on wheat flour, so Malaysians should try changing to rice flour or tapioca flour to replace it.
“We can call this as food security because if a food crisis happens, we won’t be caught off guard and whatever happens to a food producing country, we won’t be affected,” he said when contacted by Malaysian Digest.
To ensure that we would be able to have food security, Yusof said that the government needs to give more attention by allocating a larger budget for it, which has been lacking in previous budgets.
“To ensure food security, we need large areas and research and development to develop the agricultural industry so that larger yield can be produced.
“We have budget allocated for farmers, fertilisers, medicine but we need to have an allocation to be used as incentive for GLCs like Felda Global Ventures (FGV) and Sime Darby because they have large areas of land.
“They can convert some of their lands to make food crops. Incentive should be given so that they can produce food in larger quantities and allow us to have enough food that we can later export,” he said.
Among the crops that Yusof thinks need to be given due attention is rice and said that more paddy fields need to be opened as rice yield has lessened as of late.
“Look at Kedah; it used to be the rice bowl of Malaysia. But over the years, the size of their paddy fields have shrunk because people no longer work on it or the aging paddy farmers do not have successors to replace them.
“In the end, the fields are unused and then they sell it to be developed into housing projects, reducing the areas of paddy fields in the state,” he said.
He added that the government needs to come up with a policy where land that has been used for agricultural purposes could not be converted to other types of land and need to find parties that are willing to work on unused land so that it would not be wasted.
Malaysia Aiming To Achieve Not Just Food Security But Food Sovereignty As Well
Our heavy reliance on imported food, which has left us with a RM18.1 billion deficit, puts a heavy economic burden on our country and that is why the government is aiming for self-sufficiency to not only ensure food security but food sovereignty as well.
Food sovereignty is a step up from food security where we no longer need to rely on foreign countries by producing our own crops and livestock.
Currently, a good portion of Malaysia’s food import bill is made up of animal feed bill that amounts to RM5.6 billion a year on average.
“Corn is the most crucial raw ingredient in the feed for our chicken, cattle, goat and fish, but we import nearly 100% of it for our use at a cost of RM3.1bil a year,” said the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek in an interview with The Star.
In its effort towards food sovereignty and as part of its food security policy, the ministry is currently doing a pilot project to grow the country’s own feed grain in Kampung Dadong, Terengganu, and would focus on producing enough of the grain to feed our livestock.
“So far, we have only focused on the security of our carbohydrate supply or rice. We have not focussed on the security of our protein supply.
“Currently, Malaysia’s chicken production is at 110% SSL but this cannot be fully guaranteed because the country still relies on imported feed for the local chicken,” Shabery said while highlighting that corn supply from Argentina, which accounts for 90% of the corn supply to Malaysia, was affected when floods hit the country.
Apart from growing our own feed grain, the ministry is also looking at growing dairy farming and livestock for meat towards food sovereignty.
The Younger Generation Will Be The Ones Who Can Ensure Our Food Security
However, without the involvement of the younger generation, achieving food sovereignty would be difficult.
Deputy Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman said that only 15 per cent of the 800,000 members of the Farmers Organisation Authority (FOA) are aged below 40 years old while 45 per cent of them are already aged 60 years and above.
But the FOA is targeting to increase youth participation to 30 per cent by 2020 and the government has also created several programs to encourage them to be involved in agriculture.
One of the programs is the Youth Agropreneur Program that is open for those aged between 18 to 40 years old without taking into consideration their academic background.
The assistance offered under this program are:
1. Short term course as well as technical and financial advice through the department or agency related to the ministry,
2. 70% in capital assistance from the project cost through a soft loan by Agrobank and TEKUN Nasional up to RM50,000 for a new project and up to RM30,000 for existing projects, and
3. In-Kind Contribution (IKC) grant assistance up to RM30,000 which is 30% of the project cost (subject to the ceiling limit of the project).
Apart from the Youth Agropreneur Program, the department and agency under the ministry are also implementing several plans to attract the younger generation in agriculture including several key aspects such as financial support, infrastructure and equipment, expansion and marketing as well as training and promotion.
Despite these programs created by the ministry, it still hinges on whether the younger generation find agriculture an appealing avenue.
FOMCA’s Yusof had also emphasised that the government needs to step-up their game to attract youth to be involved in agricultural activities.
“The young generation will look at whether this industry will be able to sustain their daily needs or not.
“If they see peers involved in agriculture are successful, I am sure that they would be interested in it but those who have been involved do not seem to have a promising future, so it turns them off.
“The government somehow needs to assure these young people that whoever is involved in agriculture, with the help of the government, will be successful and this will probably attract their interest more,” he mused.
Ultimately, our nation’s food security hinges on these youth agropreneurs to ensure that food sovereignty can be achieved to avert the possibility of a looming food crises.