PETALING JAYA: The movement control order implemented in March last year sent Malaysians into a buying frenzy to stock up on essential items as many were worried that there would not be enough supply to sustain them at home.
Photos and videos of empty shelves in supermarkets and “clear” tables in wet markets made their rounds on various platforms of social media with captions
reading, among others, “All gone!”, “How to survive like this...” and “The (corona) virus not gonna kill us, these (empty shelves) will starve us to death”.
The situation could not be taken lightly and the Agriculture and Food Industries Ministry immediately swung into action.
Minister Datuk Seri Ronald Kiandee said they not only had to ensure a sufficient supply of food but also had to deal with the surplus of crops that could not be moved due to the movement restriction.
“We took various measures including setting up controlled fresh markets in 196 locations and encouraged producers to embrace e-commerce to move their fruits, vegetables and other food items.
“No one will starve in this country and we are proud to report that one of the ministry’s biggest achievements in the past year is to sustain the food equilibrium to ensure the people are fed and farmers earn an income, ” he said.
Kiandee said even as physical stores started to open as the MCO rules were eased, the ministry would continue to encourage producers to sell their produce online as an additional revenue channel.
He also said the ministry would continue to put food security as a national agenda and set up the Food Security Cabinet Committee (FSCC), chaired by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
“This committee is responsible for studying food security issues holistically and it was the first Cabinet committee formed under the Perikatan Nasional government, ” he said at a press conference on the ministry’s achievement in the past year.
The ministry’s past year’s achievements had to do with safeguarding the nation’s food security as well as uplifting the lives of farmers and fishermen, he added.
The measures to safeguard food security include developing land for padi cultivation through the Large-Scale Smart Field programme (Smart SBB) that could potentially wean the country off rice imports.
Smart SBB is a smart partnership between the public and private sectors that engages existing industry players to assist with enhancing the country’s padi producing capabilities that will not only lessen the dependence on rice imports but improve the lives of padi farmers as well.
So far, 11 companies are on board to collaborate with the government to develop 150,000ha per padi planting season in the programme’s first phase.
Kiandee said the programme also aimed to restructure the padi producing value chain to eventually minimise or eliminate the role of middlemen.
“The programme is also expected to double padi production, which would mean better income for padi farmers.
“As it encourages production to safeguard food security, we are also working to develop an insurance scheme to protect farmers and their crops from ruin.
“It is time the insurance sector also extended its services to farmers as a more efficient way to safeguard their crops, ” he said.
Kiandee also said RM80mil under the 12th Malaysia Plan had been set aside for natural disaster subsidies to protect crops, which was a huge expense to the government.
“We need a new approach to better help farmers protect their crops and we are now in the planning stages and having serious engagements with agencies under the ministry, ” he said, adding that while Agrobank is responsible for leading the initiative, we encourage insurance companies to offer a similar model and policy to farmers.
“Such a scheme is not new and is practised by many countries including the Philippines, Vietnam and China, ” he said.
Kiandee added that the ministry was also working on the National Agro-food Policy 2.0 which not only aimed to make the country more self-sufficient by producing staple foods such as rice but also raise the income of farmers, livestock breeders and fishermen.
“We are also looking at developing a tuna industry as a new source of income for players in the fishing sector.
“We are inviting those in the industry to facilitate us and explore the potential of this venture in waters off the west coast of Sabah in the South China Sea, ” he said.