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Suhaiza Hanim Mohamad Zailani

By Datin Sri Prof. Dr. Suhaiza Hanim Dato Mohamad Zailani

Did you know that two-thirds of chilli that is used in various Malaysian cuisine hails from our neighbour Thailand? And that rice, which is a staple in almost every household is reliant upon supply from Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan, and India?

We are a rice-eating country, most of us eat rice every day, this is a fact. And although we are also a rice-producing country, what we produce, does not suffice the whole nation. What we produce covers only 70% of what the nation uses. The rest? We import from other rice-producing countries. About 800,000 metric tonnes of rice is imported annually, to ensure that there is enough rice for the use of our country. That’s a lot of rice!

This is just rice, other foods such as mutton, beef, fresh milk, cabbage, ginger, mangoes and recently chicken, are also reliant upon the supply from overseas producers. We just do not produce enough food for our people and the industries that are reliant upon food produce and products. Malaysia imports 60% of its food as of recent years. That’s more than half! We are being heavily reliant upon imports of essential food products.

Land abundant, food crop poor A nation with abundant of land and resources, yet we are still food insecure, reliant upon the imports of food from other countries. We had a taste of what would become should this situation continues, when Covid-19 was onset. With the supply chain being disruption, food and other supplies were difficult to ship out, increasing food insecurity.

We must act before it becomes a serious problem to our nation. How do we overcome this? For one, a shift in the agriculture products that we produce can ease the reliance towards overseas food products. Ceasing to produce food close to where it is consumed, has created longer FSCs (food supply chains) which opens to high chance of disruption (logistics, transportation).

More food crops should be planted instead of the cash crops, because, at the end of the day, cash cannot be eaten and palm oil cannot be drunk when one’s nation needs food. We need to go back to growing what naturally grows locally, grow diverse types of food and have pure chemical, hormone, antibiotic, preservatives and artificial-free fresh food. We need to plant food items that are staple in the Malaysian context.

The supply chain for food plays an important part in the process of changing food from its natural, unprocessed state into a form that is fit for human consumption and free of potential health risks. The food supply chain is an important lifeline between food producers, such as farmers and fishermen, and multitudes of consumers. It also bridges a myriad of players along the various stages of the food supply chain. Whether it is based locally or transcends international borders, the food supply chain is an important part of the food industry. In fact, the food supply chain plays an essential role in ensuring that customers have ready access to an adequate quantity of food at the appropriate time.

In addition, the safety component of the food supply chain is of the utmost importance. This is because food can get contaminated at any point along the chain, such as during manufacturing, preparation, or distribution, by biological, chemical, or physical risks. More than 200 diseases, ranging from cancer to diarrhea, are among those that can be transmitted through the consumption of contaminated food, as stated by the World Health Organization (WHO).

In addition to having a negative impact on public health, hazardous food also has a wide range of other negative repercussions, including influencing economic growth, trade in food, tourism, and the livelihoods of individuals who work in the food sector. Additionally, the expansion of global trade has resulted in the lengthening of the food supply chain, which now spans a number of different national borders.

Urban farming the way forward Farms and urban gardens should be encouraged to be set up. Government and local agencies should come together and work with these farms and urban gardens to gather the produces so it can be available for public consumption.

Tapping into urban and small farms can surely help, if not for the whole lot of consumption, at least their potential can be of some assistance to elevate food supply shortage.

Arable land should be put to good use, including rooftops and sidewalks. Landscaping around the townships and roadsides should be made edible rather than just as beautiful features. At the point of this article being written, about close to 104 hectares of farmland have been abandoned. This number does not include lands that are being held by the government that are idle and unused. That is so much land space that can be made used to increase food crops. Food-based agriculture should be rejuvenated on these lands by incorporating modern technology, making the industry attractive to the younger generation.

Go local

Another way to reduce the reliance of outside food supply is to start consuming locally grown food. Efforts towards educating and encouraging the younger generation to consume of our local fruits, vegetables and other food products should be made.

The older generation should also be reminded of the abundant local food crops that can be included in the daily meals. The shift in consumer behavior by sourcing locally food products can help reduce the demand of imported food produce and products.

When there is a disruption in the supply chains in imports from the countries that we import from, a spike in the price of food will follow. Should this happen, we Malaysians will surely feel the brunt of it.

Rethinking FSCs

The UN SDG goal 2 targets state that “by 2030, end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round.”

Will we as a nation be able to achieve this goal? I sure hope so, because, I strongly believe that no one should go hungry, not even your worst enemy. We need to ensure that everyone in our country will be able to have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, especially the minority groups in Malaysia.

Rethinking of the development of the food-based agriculture and taking prompt measures should be carried out to mitigate the risk of Malaysia becoming severely food insecure soon. It is more urgent than ever to address this issue. Government, local councils, community members and individual can come together and play a part in trying to overcome food security. Progress means ensuring food is secure for all layers of the community.

The author is the Director of the Ungku Aziz Centre for Development Studies, Universiti Malaya. She may be reached at [email protected]

(This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of BebasNews.)

— BebasNews

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