PETALING JAYA: Malaysians take pride in the nation’s status as a food paradise but many of the ingredients used are not sourced locally, as the RM45.4bil food import bill for 2015 shows.
The country gets its vegetables, fruits and meats from at least 120 countries, importing more than 50 types of fresh and frozen items to cater to the palates of Malaysians, especially foodies.
Common fruits such as watermelon, banana, pineapple and even rambutan were among those sourced from overseas at a cost of RM1.55bil between January and June last year.
African countries, Australia, India, Thailand and China were among the places from where Malaysia got its fruits.
According to the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry, last year alone Malaysia spent RM45.4bil on food imports.
The Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (Fama) said that in 2014, the food import bill totalled RM42.6bil, a spike of RM12.4bil compared to a mere four years before when the bill was RM30.2bil.
Vegetables such as onion, garlic, broccoli, mushroom, okra, beans, sweet potato, tomato and chillies are imported from countries such as China, India, Thailand, Australia and even Singapore.
Between January and June last year, the Government spent close to RM1.98bil on vegetable imports.
Another RM1.68bil went towards importing chicken, beef, buffalo, lamb, duck and pork from the United States, China, Australia and other countries.
Fama senior director of market information Dr Bisant Kaur said the share of agriculture to the gross domestic product (GDP) had been on the decline since the 1980s.
This, she said, was the result of national development policies that began focusing on industrialisation.
But agriculture’s contribution to the GDP increased slightly from 2.1% in 2013 to 2.6% the following year.
“The major contributor to agricultural value-added product is oil palm. Agro-food contribution such as vegetables, fruits, padi and other crops made up 20.1% of the agriculture sector’s GDP,” she added.
The Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) secretary-general Datuk Paul Selvaraj said food security should be the Government’s priority to ensure the country reduces its dependency on the import of essential items.
Currently, the country is only self-sufficient in a few items such as eggs, poultry and pork.
“We are completely dependent on imports for other items. That is why prices for some items have gone through the roof,” he said.
He urged the Government to emphasise the food crop industry for better sustainability.
Ever since the Government shifted its focus from agriculture to industrialisation, food crop security had been substantially neglected, he said.
“We need to focus on food crops and be more self-sufficient so that food is easily available and affordable for consumers,” he added.
Paul said the agricultural sector should also be made more attractive to entice the younger generation to be involved in it.
“There is also a need to have incentives and protection for farmers,” he said.
In a report in The Star on Tuesday, Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek conceded that much of the food consumed by Malaysians was imported.
However, he noted that Malaysia was at a self-sufficiency level for essential food items such as poultry (105%), eggs (120%), fruits (100%), fish (90%), vegetables (90%), beef (28%) and milk (13%).
The level for rice, a staple food for Malaysians, is about 70%.