MALAYSIA is heavily dependent on imports for some of its essential food items such as rice, meat, milk and dairy products, and is able to buy adequate quantities of these food items to meet the shortfall in our production to meet local demand.
However if the US threat of war in the Middle East becomes a reality, our import/export trade may be disrupted, and food security through self-sufficiency may merit over-riding priority over GDP growth and all else.
It is time to give serious consideration to achieving a higher level of self-sufficiency in food production.
This is necessary, even though it may be more expensive to produce our own food and we stand to gain more in monetary terms, by producing and exporting what we are good at and importing the food we require.
The move by the Government to amend the National Land Code to facilitate the leasing of unutilised and under-utilised Malay Reservation land for commercial agricultural development by commercial enterprises is a step in the right direction.
While this augurs well for attainment of a greater degree of self-sufficiency in rice, vegetable production etc, it may not substantially stem the imports of beef, mutton, milk and dairy products.
Malaysia is not blessed with natural grasslands for large-scale commercial pastoral farming.
It is not economically feasible to maintain pure cultivated pastures, as our abundant rainfall favours the growth of weeds and belukar more than grass.
For successful cattle and sheep rearing on a large scale, we could fully exploit the grazing area available in the thousand; of hectares of oil palm estates and/or we could resort to the feed-lot system.
Under this system, the animals are confined in sheds and fed ‘concentrates’ consisting mainly of locally available by-products of agriculture or food industry which have high nutritious value such as palm kennel cake (PKC) which is a by-product of the oil palm industry.
However, this product is only available to local livestock farmers in limited quantities as the bulk of it is exported to European countries for winter feeding of their cattle.
In the interest of food security, it may be prudent to boost the local cattle and sheep industry by restricting the export of palm kennel cake and, thus, reduce our dependence on imports of beef mutton milk and dairy products.