Everyone must contribute to averting the food crisis

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The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industries (Mafi) assured that the food supply in the country has not reached crisis level.

The story began in the 1980s when Malaysia pushed for industrialization. Under Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, efforts were made to revitalize the agricultural sector. This continued under the next prime minister.

However, the decision that it would be run by government agencies and government-related companies was a big mistake. There have been leaks and corruption. Ideas like padi plantations and smart farming have benefited the consultants.

Fast forward, in 2020, a Cabinet Committee on Food Security, chaired by the Prime Minister, was established to formulate national food security policy and generate higher incomes for agricultural pioneers.

It would seek input and views from various stakeholders (academics, industry players, civil society group as well as farmers, pastoralists and fishers).

With 11 permanent members (all ministers), it is committed to ensuring that the level of food security is always stable in terms of availability, accessibility, safety and affordability at all times. And in line with the 12th Malaysian Plan, the vision of shared prosperity and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Last October, Mafi proposed to set up a food security committee in each state to facilitate cooperation between the federal government and state governments to help achieve the National Agrifood Policy 2021-2030.

We also have a 2021-2025 national food security policy action plan to strengthen national food security.

In January, the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs said Malaysia was facing inflation and the government was putting in place measures to control rising food prices.

A few weeks ago, a former prime minister asked the government to relaunch the food security council. I don’t seem to find one except for a National Food Safety and Nutrition Council under the Ministry of Health.

Sixty percent of our food is imported and we import mutton (88%) and beef (76.4%) and we were once self-sufficient in poultry.

In 2019, we only produced 46% vegetables, 70% rice, 61% fruit, 25% meat and 5% dairy to meet our needs.

In 2020, Malaysia imported and exported US$43.2 million (RM189 million) and US$7.39 million of pork respectively.

In April, food inflation was higher year-on-year at 4.1%. For example, satay and rice (accompaniment) recorded a higher increase of 7.1%.

More than a year ago, we had problems with the supply of red peppers and red onions. But in 2018, Mafi mobilized a task force to address the profitability of chili pepper production so that its local variety could remain competitive in the market.

And there you have it, the first part of the story.

Then we attribute the price increases to rising fertilizer prices, logistics costs, labor shortages, the Covid-19 pandemic, weather and Ukraine.

What about state governments? Are they doing enough?

Farmers are being evicted while cartels and politically linked businesses are accused of protection racketeering. And the non-stop construction of real estate.

What happened to the investigation into allegations of cartels and middlemen who profited more than farmers or retailers?

Approved Permits (AP) are part of the problem. In addition to inequitable allocation, there are also abuses. Restrictive regulations create opportunities for politicians, bureaucrats and greedy cronies.

There is also inefficiency in the distribution of subsidies. Mafi said only RM50 million in grants have been awarded out of the RM729 million allocated since February 2022.

A report states that around 40% of Johor’s plant products are exported to Singapore.

The Young Agropreneur Program and My Future Agro did not seem attractive.

It should be noted that the government has abolished the PA, set up an agribusiness fund of RM500 million in concessional loans and considered some tax incentives.

These are short term measures, but what about the long term?

More imports translate into more ringgit outflows and will weaken it further, coupled with imported inflation.

We should ask ourselves how effective is the cabinet committee and the various policy statements and action plans? Did the committee solicit feedback and views from various stakeholders and how often did engagements take place?

The Penang Consumers’ Association regretted that its past warnings to authorities about the dangers of food insecurity had been ignored.

Going forward, review policy statements, action plans and have more commitments and give due consideration to environmental and social impact.

While Keluarga Menteri works on the above, we, Keluarga Malaysia, must also do our part. Try to reduce meat consumption to reduce imports. Hoteliers should also pay attention to its buffet. We had the National Feedlot Corporation to increase beef production, but it failed miserably and talks to settle a lawsuit are taking too long.

There should be a clear appeal to prioritize public health, thereby reducing health care costs.

Mafi may be right about the crisis situation, but it seems the crisis is now affecting people across the ecosystem. We need honest and diligent players to get results.

“And the earth which We have spread (like a carpet); place there firm and immovable mountains; and produced all sorts of things in fair balance. And We have provided sustenance there, for you and for those whose sustenance you are not responsible for. [Quran: Hijr 15:19–20]

There is something for everyone and we must regenerate rather than degrade natural resources.

In the meantime, the committees that deal with the water supply, be vigilant as the dry season approaches.

What do you say… – June 4, 2022.

* Saleh Mohammed reads The Malaysian Insight.

* This is the opinion of the author or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. The article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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