Food reserve plans in the pipeline

PETALING JAYA: A Cabinet Committee on Food Security chaired by the Prime Minister will be set up soon to formulate the National Food Security Policy, says Agriculture and Food Industries Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ronald Kiandee (pic).

The move comes amid the Covid-19 pandemic and heightened public concern about present and future food resources.

Kiandee said the pandemic should serve as a wake-up call for Malaysia to improve its food security and safety.

“The agro-food sub sector will be the main focus in the agriculture sector in order to achieve the agenda of improving Malaysia’s food security and generating higher income for agriculture frontliners, ” he told Sunday Star.

Other areas of focus include strengthening the food supply chain, improving support and delivery services, enhancing technological knowledge and promoting greater compliance to good agricultural standards and practices.

“Whether our life will regain its ‘normalcy’ post Covid-19 or we have to resign to a ‘new norm’, we can all agree that it is high time to re-evaluate our county’s food security policy, ” he said.

According to Kiandee, a special task force to minimise the impact of Covid-19 on the food supply chain has also been established to coordinate inter-ministerial efforts of the International Trade and Industry, Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs, and the Agriculture and Food Industry Ministries.

In general, Kiandee said that Malaysia’s food supply is at a sufficient level. However, whether everyone gets a sufficient amount of food remains a work in progress.

As such, more needs to be done to improve the food security and safety in Malaysia by ensuring its accessibility, affordability and availability for all, he said.

Malaysia is ranked the 28th out of 113 countries in the Global Food Security Index 2019, ahead of China (35th) and South Korea (29th) but behind Singapore which is ranked first in the world.

The ministry is working towards reducing Malaysia’s rice import, currently at 30%, within the next few years.

At the moment, imports of rice by Padiberas Nasional Bhd from countries such as Thailand and Vietnam are continuing as usual despite the movement control order.

One of the main focuses of the Agriculture and Food Industries will be to reduce Malaysia’s dependency on imported food products.

To cope with Covid-19, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin recently announced a RM1bil allocation for Malaysia’s food security fund and other assistance for farmers, fishermen and those in the agro-food industry.

Kiandee said the ministry would continue searching for new market access and bringing in investors to help agriculture frontliners recover from the effects of Covid-19.

Among the challenges faced in the industry are the low levels of mechanisation and automation, dependency on foreign workers, lack of private investment and funding, difficulty in accessing market, unsustainable subsidy mechanism and a lack of quality seeds and breeds.

“I am certain that the involvement of the younger generation is the key towards bringing in Industrial Revolution 4.0 and modernising the agriculture sector as they are more adept in adopting and learning the latest technologies and techniques, ” Kiandee said, adding that the ministry provided a grant to encourage mechanisation and automation in agriculture.

At present, only 8.5% farmers are under the age of 40 but targeted programmes are being introduced to increase this number.

Kiandee hoped that the country would be able to produce more “agropreneurs” as Malaysia seeks to improve on food security and safety.

“This way, the next time the country is faced with a global pandemic, we will be ready as our food security level will be more than sufficient to sustain us over a long period of time, ” said Kiandee, thanking agricultural frontliners, who are working around-the-clock during this crisis.

Food security specialist Prof Datuk Dr Nasir Shamsudin said Malaysia should increase investment in agricultural research, improve industry technology and encourage entrepreneurship in order to strengthen the country’s food security.

“In terms of food policy, countries that have achieved stable food security generally have a strong record of support for the food production sector, ” said the professor in agricultural economics at Universiti Putra Malaysia.

Khazanah Research Institute Senior Research Associate Dr Sarena Che Omar called for improved preparedness and an action plan ready to quickly respond to future crises that can detrimentally impact food security.

This could include having a list of shelters and food distribution centres that can be mobilised at short notice and essential sectors pre-approved to move on as usual in the event of an emergency.

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