IN response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the government established the Cabinet Committee on National Food Security Policy chaired by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin in May to propose strategies on national food security.
Four clusters under three ministries and one agency have been set up. The holistic nature of this effort in scrutinising food security issues is reflected by the four clusters: Availability, Accessibility, Food Safety and Nutrition, and Stability and Sustainability.
Together, they will address various aspects of the food supply chain, including manpower, technological applications, financial resources, investment, infrastructure and land use.
Innovations are needed all the way from farm to fork. These involve novel farming systems, bioenergy and biomaterials, innovative food, agri-biotechnology, agricultural technology (agtech) infrastructure, farm management systems, sensors and Internet-of-things (IoT) as well as in-store retail and restaurant technology.
We must realise that food is part of a complex supply chain involving farmers, delivery and (e-)commerce with many stakeholders.
Understanding the connections of this supply chain network is important for post-Covid-19 recovery and also to build resilience to face future pandemics.
Systems thinking – an approach to understand the dynamic interactions between interdependent domains in a system – will help. This integrative systems view will prevent policies that provide cheaper food of certain categories but lead to high rates of diet-related diseases or market innovations and production systems that emphasise efficiency but compromise on biodiversity and exacerbate climate change.
In the past, policy and strategies on food were developed in silos, with little integration among communities working on agriculture, food, nutrition, health, environment, water, climate, employment, transport and trade. For holistic transformation to occur, national policymakers must get all of these stakeholders to work together.
Local and regional stakeholders must also be empowered in shaping the food systems to reflect local values, resources and priorities.
The whole disorganised food supply chain should be digitalised for easy monitoring and tracing. Transparency will ensure the quality and safety of farm products through verified suppliers with accessible product data.
Farming is now shifting towards more informed decisions based on data analytics collected by all the sensors and IoT. This intelligent infrastructure for smart agriculture is in line with the fourth industrial revolution (IR4.0).
A cloud platform for agricultural companies to optimise the supply chain will also be critical in boosting yields, quality and productivity at different scales of farms or greenhouses.
As host country for APEC meetings this year, Malaysia is in an ideal position to lead further discussions on regional food security.
ASSOC PROFESSOR HOE-HAN GOH
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia
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