Why food security is more important now

Perak farming activities is the country largest producer in food security such as sweet corn,sweet potato and okra vegetables all for the nationwide supply.(22nd August 2022)--- RONNIE CHIN/The Star

FOOD security is a critical concern today for countries across the world. By 2050, the world will have two billion more people to feed, and food demand is up 56% compared to 10 years ago, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Additionally, the world is nowhere near achieving the United Nation’s (UN) Sustainable Development Goal target of ending world hunger, achieving food security, and improving nutrition by 2030, with more people suffering from hunger every year, as cited by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

This challenge is further aggravated by the climate variability, Covid-19 pandemic, political conflicts and food inflation, among others.

Climate change has impacted what and where agricultural products can be grown.

Arid land occupies 40% of the world’s landmass, and we will see more of it turning into deserts due to rising temperatures, according to the WEF.

Climatic shocks, such as floods, draughts, and heat waves caused by variability in rainfall and temperatures have also significantly reduced yields. Globally, around 30% of food produced every year for consumption is lost or wasted, due to climate change.

We have seen unprecedented downpours and severe flooding in Malaysia recently. In just the first month of 2023, floods across several Malaysian states have resulted in more than RM5.4mil of crops being destroyed by floods.

The rising temperature and shrinking arable land would significantly reduce yields. In short, climate change has led to significantly lower yields.

In the past two years, food supply chains around the globe have been disrupted, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In Malaysia, when the movement control orders (MCOs) were implemented, farms, factories and food processing facilities were either shut down or operating at reduced capacity, leading to shortages in food supply.

Malaysia’s agricultural sector, which is largely dependent on foreign labour, was severely impacted by the MCOs, as these workers were forced to leave the country.

Workforce disruptions due to the Covid-19 pandemic have also contributed to food shortages.

The global food supply shortage has been further exacerbated by political conflicts.

These conflicts between nations have negatively impacted virtually every aspect of the food system, from production, harvesting, processing, and transport to the supply of agricultural inputs, financing, marketing, and consumption.

For example, the geopolitical tension has resulted in more than 12% of food exports to be halted.

This situation directly affects importing nations, including Malaysia, which are dependent on the import of fertilisers and animal feed from these countries.

Due to soaring animal feed prices, Malaysia, once the 11th largest exporter of eggs, have had to cut production in local hatcheries. For months, individuals and businesses, ie, restaurants, bakeries and food stalls, have faced challenges in securing eggs for consumption and business needs.

All of the factors above lead to food inflation, ie, climate change destroying crops and reducing yields, the Covid-19 pandemic disrupting the global food supply chain, and political conflicts resulting in export stoppages.

Global food prices have increased by 20% in the past year, reaching a historical high.

Millions of people globally have no access to affordable nutritious food, and this number will continue to increase as food prices remain high.

Food inflation is detrimental to low-income households, who are already suffering from hunger and malnutrition.

In Malaysia, the B40 population was the most severely impacted, due to the fact that they have had to spend up to 32% of their household income on essential food items.

This has caused many households in the B40 income group to be pushed into poverty, and many M40 households have dropped into the B40 category.

Economies around the globe are taking action to change the trajectory, hoping to transform their food systems.

If they are successful, food systems can be made resilient against the drivers mentioned above.

The FAO has identified six strategies to transform food systems:

> integrate humanitarian, development and peace-building policies in conflict-affected areas,

> scale up climate resilience across food systems,

> strengthen the resilience of the most vulnerable groups to economic adversity,

> intervene along the food supply chain to lower the cost of nutritious food,

> tackle poverty and structural inequalities to ensure interventions are inclusive of the poorest groups, and

> strengthen food environments and change consumer behaviour to promote dietary patterns with positive impact to human health and to the environment.

On the local front, much emphasis has been placed on addressing food security.

To begin with, the Agriculture and Food Industry Ministry has been rebranded as the Agriculture and Food Security Ministry, highlighting the government’s vision to tackle food security in Malaysia.

Interventions such as price controls on selected food items and cash aids have been a lifeline for the B40 households. Recently, the Government also launched Menu Rahmah, an initiative that provides meals (RM5/plate) for the B40 community.

While these may be short-term interventions directed at cushioning the impact of food inflation on the poor, the government understands the need and urgency to transform the agricultural sector.

To accelerate its efforts in improving food security, the government may consider adopting best practices from other countries, including:

> Elevating the importance of food security in national policy – Switzerland regards food security as a matter of national security, placing it on par with the importance of military supplies, banking, and insurance.

> Adopting Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies across the value chain – By using advanced farming techniques like drip irrigation, Israel has enhanced the efficiency of its agricultural sector and achieved a 90% food self-sufficiency rate.

> Increasing investment in R&D – 7.5% of Japan’s government budget was allocated to agriculture-related research, resulting in significant innovation in the sector.

> Establishing partnerships between public and private sectors – Public-Private Partnership between the State Department of Agriculture in Madhya Pradesh and Dhanuka Group led to improved productivity, innovation, service and product quality in the state’s agricultural sector.

> Engaging smallholders through a hub-and-spoke model – In Thailand, CP Foods engaged over 5,500 smallholder farmers to aggregate food supply, which has increased overall supply and the quality of food items.

The company also provided training programmes, input materials and machineries to build the capacity of the farmers.

The government has begun adopting some of these strategies in its journey to improve food security.

The Finance Ministry’s “Economic Outlook Report 2023” highlighted the government’s commitment to build a more resilient food-supply chain, by adopting 4IR technologies across the value chain to improve productivity.

The Prime Minister has also indicated that food security will be one of the key topics for Budget 2023, escalating the importance for the nation to develop a more robust food security strategy.

In conclusion, food security is more important now than ever, with more people to feed while the food supply chain is still recovering from climate variability, the Covid-19 pandemic, and political conflicts.

Nations across the world need to work together to tackle the issue of food security, implementing short, mid and long-term interventions that are inclusive of the low-income population. Only then can we strive to achieve a world without hunger.

Mohd Husin Mohd Nor is a partner at Ernst & Young Consulting Sdn Bhd. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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