While there is definitely food wastage happening over the MCO period, it is difficult to ascertain the exact amount, says Sarena, who is a Senior Research Associate from Khazanah Research Institute (KRI).
“There is no way for us to gauge how much food wastage there is exactly from panic buying, from lambakkan (discarded produce), or how much is unused from food and beverage outlets who were forced to close,” she notes.
What is clear is that when wastage happens, it prevents the underprivileged and vulnerable communities from accessing necessary food items.
“People who are financially better off, resourceful or are able to move at a faster pace can acquire food. However, this is not the case for the underprivileged, those who live far away, the disabled, migrant workers or other disadvantaged groups.
“When you talk about the impact of food wastage, it is making food unavailable to vulnerable people – those who have transport issues or cannot afford food,” Sarena explains.
“This is because cheaper sources of fresh food like pasar malams and pasar tanis had closed down over the MCO. It is great that the local authorities are noticing this and are re-introducing and re-opening some of the markets.”
Initially, farmers’ markets (pasar tani) and night markets (pasar malam) and roadside stalls were not allowed to operate during the MCO. However, in early April it was announced that 97 Controlled Fresh Market (PST) outlets will operate nationwide in stages until April 14 to ensure the continued supply and distribution of food.
Furthermore, Sarena points out that food wastage will drastically impact invisible communities in Malaysia – refugees, migrant workers, and especially non-documented migrant workers who are between 2-4 million in Malaysia.
“They do not have a voice and are afraid to be seen. Nobody knows if they have access to food or what their current living conditions are. Most undocumented migrants are daily wage earners, so you can imagine what they’re going through after weeks of quarantine,” she adds.
An effective supply chain is needed to tackle the issues of fresh produce distribution in this quarantine period.
“When people think about food, they think of food being in front of you. They don’t think of the journey it takes to get there. When we talk about food it’s not just about farmers growing the food.”
In the beginning of the MCO, many in the agriculture industry experienced difficulty distributing their produce. This was cleared up after the government clarified that food supply sectors and its chain of essential services can operate as usual.
Fresh produce has a short lifespan, and problems arise when there are fewer people to move the fruits and vegetables to consumers.
“For example, those in the logistics side may have been told by their employers not to work, are unable to work, are unsure if they can work, or are afraid to work at this time.
“There is a lot of miscommunication going on. Lazada has tried to bridge that communication breakdown by connecting consumers directly to the farmers,” she says.
As a way to help farmers during the MCO, e-commerce platform Lazada Malaysia provided a space for farmers to sell their products directly to consumers online.
To ensure good distribution of food, it is important that we look to alternative supply chains as well and not just the big grocers or supermarkets, says Sarena.
“Look at pasar tani or pasar malam. Identify vulnerable communities and where they source their food and their own supply chain.
“The government can then re-open these markets but in a controlled environment to ensure social distancing,” she says.