Assessing Malaysia’s food security efforts

Small-scale farmers continue to face issues like poor-quality seeds and inadequate management practices, making it essential to prioritise investments that directly benefit farmers and enhance their productivity and livelihoods.

A closer look at policies and implementation

IN recent years, Malaysia has grappled with a concerning trend in its food trade imbalance, marked by a significant increase in food imports compared to exports.

The numbers paint a stark picture: in 2022 alone, Malaysia imported RM75.6bil worth of food products while exporting only RM44.6bil.

This import trend has been steadily rising, indicating a growing dependency on foreign food sources and a concerning trade deficit. Despite the government’s efforts to bolster food security through various initiatives and budget allocations, the nation still faces challenges in achieving self-sufficiency in key food staples such as beef, mutton, chili and rice.

With a new government in power since the 2022 elections, there were hopes for renewed focus and commitment to addressing Malaysia’s food security concerns. However, the effectiveness of these efforts remains under scrutiny.

National Agrofood Policy 2.0

The National Agrofood Policy 2.0 represents a significant step forward in addressing the challenges faced by Malaysia’s agro-food sector. This policy acknowledges the shortcomings of its predecessor and aims to tackle various dimensions of food security, including availability, access, utilisation and stability.

Emphasising principles of economy, social welfare, and environmental sustainability, the policy outlines a comprehensive approach to enhancing food production and distribution.

One of the critical issues highlighted by the policy is the socioeconomic status of small-scale food producers, who constitute a significant portion of the agricultural sector. Despite their importance, these producers often face low incomes and limited access to resources, hindering their ability to contribute effectively to food production. Addressing these challenges requires not only financial support but also initiatives to improve the quality of life and opportunities for small-scale farmers.

While the National Agrofood Policy 2.0 offers promising objectives, questions remain regarding the government’s commitment to implementing necessary technologies and innovations in agriculture.

Muhammad Aiman Roszaimi, a graduate of Master of Social Sciences (Strategic and Security Analysis) from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), is affiliated with the Research Center for History, Politics, and International Affairs at UKM.Muhammad Aiman Roszaimi, a graduate of Master of Social Sciences (Strategic and Security Analysis) from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), is affiliated with the Research Center for History, Politics, and International Affairs at UKM.

Although there have been investments in research and development, small-scale farmers continue to grapple with issues such as poor-quality seeds and inadequate management practices. It is essential to prioritise investments that directly benefit farmers and enhance their productivity and livelihoods.

Moving forward, it is crucial to set realistic targets and indicators for the implementation of agricultural technologies and automation. While these innovations hold the potential to transform the agriculture industry and improve food security, they must be accompanied by measures to address underlying challenges and ensure the welfare of farmers, prioritising the needs of small-scale farmers and ensure that technological innovations are effectively deployed to enhance productivity and livelihoods.

By taking a holistic and humanistic approach to food security, Malaysia can overcome its current challenges and build a more sustainable and resilient agro-food sector.

Malaysia’s food security efforts require a comprehensive and coordinated approach that addresses both policy frameworks and implementation strategies. Only through concerted efforts and meaningful interventions can Malaysia achieve its goal of self-sufficiency in food production and ensure the well-being of its citizens.

‘Stork birdy stork’ habit and recognition of root problems

A statement from the Selangor State Legislative Assembly (DUN) earlier on Feb 28 this year blamed farmers for low productivity without considering underlying factors which was counterproductive. The assertion that farmers’ failure to follow standard operating procedures (SOP) is the main cause of the reduction in paddy production highlights a concerning trend of scapegoating rather than addressing systemic issues.

The tendency to blame farmers for productivity issues, often without sufficient evidence or consideration of external factors, is a recurring problem in agricultural policy discussions. This “stork birdy stork” habit of shifting blame onto farmers must be replaced with a more humanistic and proactive approach.

Instead of adopting a reactive stance, the government should prioritise comprehensive research that incorporates farmers’ perspectives and expert views. By involving farmers in the research process and considering their lived experiences and challenges, policymakers can gain valuable insights into the root causes of productivity issues. This approach allows for the development of more effective and inclusive policies that address underlying structural barriers and support farmers in improving productivity sustainably.

Moreover, the inability to recognise systemic issues related to government agencies, market chains, and market monopolies exacerbates agricultural challenges in Malaysia. Issues such as missing local stock and poor seed distribution persist due to a lack of acknowledgment of these underlying structural problems.

In spite of the initiatives outlined in the Malaysia Food Security Action Plan 2021-2025, such as the establishment of a command centre to collaborate with agencies like the Investment, Trade and Industry Ministry (Miti), the National Security Council (MKN) and the Health Ministry (KKM), systemic issues persist.

While these initiatives aim to manage food security issues more systematically, there is a need for sustained, long-term action rather than reactive measures. Instead of exist in a short period of time, the proposed command centre should operate proactively, continuously monitoring and evaluating all aspects of the agricultural supply chain, from seed distribution to market sales.

Using a proactive stance, Malaysia can identify and address potential issues before they escalate into crises, thereby enhancing agricultural resilience and stability.

Furthermore, instead of solely focusing on short-term fixes, the command centre should compile comprehensive annual reports for the government. These reports should outline strategies to tackle systemic issues within the agricultural sector, including improving seed distribution networks, enhancing market transparency and addressing market monopolies.

Through the introduction of the National Agrofood Policy 2.0, which represents a significant improvement over its predecessor, there is an urgent need for proactive and humanistic implementation. It is essential to address underlying and often overlooked issues within the agricultural sector.

Recognising that agricultural challenges stem from systemic issues rather than the fault of any single sector is crucial. Only through comprehensive reforms can we truly tackle these challenges effectively and ensure the long-term sustainability of our food. Furthermore, fostering a culture of collaboration and mutual respect between policymakers, researchers and farmers is essential for achieving meaningful progress in food security efforts.

Rather than shifting blame, there should be a concerted effort to work together towards shared goals, with a focus on empowering farmers and strengthening the resilience of our agricultural sector.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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