It’s time to rethink food security

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FOOD safety has always been my favorite topic. I advocated for the need for a holistic policy to ensure our food production is secure and self-sufficient. I have already written a few articles on quality, safety and food standards.

Food-related agriculture is often placed last. We cannot live off oil palms and rubber, no matter how advanced the technologies associated with these crops.

Our survival, and the survival of humanity, is to ensure the availability of food.

We Malaysians take food for granted. There is so much food on our table that we have perfected the art of wasting it.

Every day, we generate 15,000 tonnes of food waste, enough to fill 7.5 football pitches or feed 7.5 million people. Yet 800 million people, or 26 times the population of Malaysia, go hungry every day on planet Earth. That’s one in five humans.

Food, as argued by Tom Standage in his book, An Edible History of Humankind, is the catalyst for human change, political groupings, geopolitical competitiveness, industrial development, and economic superiority.

In short, food transforms humanity.

But do we know that modernization is as much about industrialization as it is about improving food production?

Food is being politicized, even militarized, not to mention being used as bargaining power.

Amartya Sen, winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics, made a famous statement about the correlation between famine, democracy and press freedom. (Yes, that last one counts!)

Now for a wake up call: food prices are on the rise in this country. What is worrying is that while the inflation rate was 2.2% in March, food inflation was 4%.

Many have welcomed the government’s decision to scrap Approved Permits (APs) for food imports.

“Anyone can import food,” Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said.

While this is a laudable decision, it is more of a knee-jerk reaction than an appropriate, well-thought-out, comprehensive and holistic policy. PAs for food imports have always been a contentious issue. It has benefited a few at the expense of many.

The government’s idea of ​​suppressing PAs is to ensure that the local supply of food is sufficient. This will certainly prevent the manipulation of food prices and supply.

We should consider any form of PA and monopoly on any food product as unacceptable. This is an opportunity for the government to seriously consider the abolition of monopolies on essential foodstuffs. In the spirit of a true market economy, monopolistic practices are backward and irresponsible.

Grain is on its way to becoming the white gold of the 21st century. At the latest news, the world grain stock has fallen to 45 days of consumption.

In the case of Malaysia, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Minister of Agriculture and Food Industries reassured us that information on the country’s rice stock could only last for two months. and a half were incorrect.

The Minister told us that our current stock of local rice at the mill, wholesale and retail levels stands at 523,000 metric tons. Those numbers, I’m sure, have changed drastically now.

Many rice-exporting countries are considering a total export ban. They know the importance of rice for the people. After all, rice is the staple food of billions of Asians. Hunger breeds anger.

It’s time to be more careful with our development idea. We’re so in love with all things massive and mega that we’ve almost forgotten people need to eat. We are still groping in the dark when it comes to our food-based agricultural policy. The wisdom at one time was that it is more economical to turn a hectare of land into industrial land than to grow plants for food. The agricultural sector relating to food has never really rejuvenated. Real farmers on the ground find themselves without support for research and development.

At the time, there was the idea of ​​Fund-for-Food (3F), but like all initiatives, it was short-lived. Financing food-related agriculture is the most difficult. Very few dare to venture into food production for obvious reasons. Those who got the funding were those who were politically connected, but with little or no knowledge of the industry.

We have to accept the fact that there will be a shortage of rice and other essential foodstuffs in the future. It is already happening. And it has nothing to do with the war in Ukraine.

Johan Jaaffar was a journalist, editor and for some years president of a media company, and is passionate about everything related to literature and the arts. And an avid rugby fan. The opinions expressed here are entirely his own.

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