Friday, January 25, 2013

National Convention on Food Security in Malaysia

Opening Address 

Panelists at the Forum Discussion

Participants of the Convention
       A one- day Convention on Food Security (FS) was jointly organised by the Academy of Sciences Malaysia and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI)  at
the Putrajaya International Convention Centre on October 5, 2012.  The programme booklet indicated that food security in the context of Malaysia, must be viewed beyond self-sufficiency of its staple food i.e rice but should also take cognisance of the need for adequate protein, vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibre, to ensure a balanced and healthy diet.  The Convention was held to examine following issues related to food security: (a) health and food (including food safety), (b) identification of relevant focus commodities, (c) identification of new R&D approaches to fulfil food security, (d) the economics of local food production vs imports
The programme of the Convention was arranged in three parts:  the opening ceremony, the keynote address and the panel discussion.  The highlights of each of these components are reported here.

   1.  Opening Ceremony -  In his opening address, the Secretary-General of the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry (MOA) reiterated that food security is a global pressing challenge which is receiving the attention of world organisations such as Asian Development Bank (ADB), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Asia -Pacific Economic Community. It is brought about by a number of factors such as increase in population and therefore increase in demand, escalating prices of food products, changes in the diet of the people and high cost of inputs.  In the national effort to ensure the people, at all times, get nutritious food for healthy living, the key issues that need to be looked at are - types of commodities to be produced, food safety and development of technologies.

   2.  Keynote Address.  In the keynote topic 'Food Security and Inclusive Growth in Southeast Asia: ADB's Perspective and Strategies, Dr Javed Hussain Mir, Director of Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Division at ADB, identified the challeneges facing food security - accessibility; supply chain; scarcity of land, water and energy and change in food mix.  Among the FS priorities that need to be addressed include enhance productivity, institute control to stabilise prices, ensure good returns to producers, food safety. Among the strategies he suggested were appropriate policies, R&D, encourage investments in food production, finance, regional cooperation, food safety, adoption of green technologies.

   3. Panel Discussion -  Seven panelists discussed related issues on FC
       3.1 In the topic 'Cutting Edge Technologies for Enhancing Food Security and Production'
             Dr. Abd Shukur covered advancement in research areas of biotechnology where  mole-
             cular markers such as quality, disease resistance could be used in upgrading crop pro-
             duction.  Nurigenomics can be utilised to customise products from crops. He also touched
             on  the application of ICT and mechaninisation on precision farming.

       3.2 Dr Larry Wong from the Institute of Strategic & International Study (ISIS), discussed   the  topic 'Rethinking Food Security: New Dynamics of Green Growth, Water-Food-Energy
             Nexus, Public-Private-Partnership, and the Changing Role of Rice indicated that the
             the present approaches to FS are rice centric, production centric and public sector centric.
             The three pillars of sustainable development are water, food and energy. The key issues to FS
              are availability, accessibity, utilisation and at the same time ensuring that food products are
             safe to be consumed.  Regional cooperation should also be examined.

       3.3 On National Nutrition Policy & National Plan of Action for Nutrition, Dr Tee Eng Siong of  Nutrition Society Malaysia indicated that Malaysia faces the dual problem of overnutri-
             tion and undernutrition.  Over the years the nutrition pattern of the people has changed both
             in terms of amount and source of nutrients as the population with higher income are       consuming more meat, fats & oils and calories.  As a consequence of this new food habit the people are encountering obesity, coronary heart diseases and diabetes.

       3.4 Dr Devendra of the Academy of Sciences on the issue of Integrated Natural Resource
             Management and Sustainable Intensification for Productivity Enhancement and Agricul-
             cultural Growth advocated ecological farming, multicropping in smallholdings and
             integrating livestock particularly small ruminants of goats and sheep under rainfed
             farming system.

       3.5 Why Food Security Matters More than Ever to Malaysia was highlihted by the represen-
             tative of the Institute of Agriculture & Food Policy of Universiti Pertanian Malaysia,
             Prof. Dr Fatimah Mohamed Arshad. She covered the discussion of the topic from three
             perspective: major structural changes in population, the urbanisation of the population
             and lifestyle changes; technical factors due to depleting resources such as fossil fuel,
             land and water; sustainable development.  According to her, increasing productivity
             and sustainable production are the keys to food security.

      3,6  In a very interesting expose on the topic 'From Hunger to Obesity: Confronting the
             Social Reality of Modernity and Food Habits in Malaysia', Prof. Ulung Dato'
             Shamsul Amri Baharuddin highlighted that Malaysia have progressed from an agricultural
             with high incidence of poverty to a high income developing country. In consonance with
             this development, food has also undergone modernity and transformation with increase of
             income, rise in consumerism, changes in marketing and branding approaches and the
             greater consciousness on health among the people. Among the recent trends on food include
             medicalisation, concern for the environment, man-animal relationship, more complex marke-
             ting and packaging,  food infotainment and health.

  4. Concluding Remarks.  Malaysia is self-sufficient in many food items - poultry, pork, fish and
      vegetables.  It still imports beef, mutton, dried vegetables and fruits and also its staple food -
      rice where its self suficiency status revolves around 65 to 70 percent in the last 40 years. Its
      import bills is estimated to reach RM 1 billion. If oil palm related food products are included as   food, the country can be considered as a net exporter of food. However, in Malaysia, agricultural
      activities/statistics are defined by ministerial boundaries and primary products. Accordingly
      they are inclusive of crops such as rice, fruits, vegetable, fruits, root crops; fishery and livestock
      but does not include the main primary products of the country - oil palm, rubber, cocoa and
      pepper as these perennials are under the purview of a different ministry.  Another statistical
      anomaly is that supply chain activities such as processing, packaging, marketting and trans-
      portation for crops such as rice, fruits are exclusive of agriculture as these activities are
      regarded as part of manufacturing and placed in the ministry looking after these
      agricultural aspects.  Accordingly, contribution of agriculture to the national economy, with the
      respective omissions, reflect a low figure of around 5 percent as opposed to a more realistic
      figure of 17-18 percent.  The true figure of self-sufficiency status and the food security
      status is therefore somewhat warped.
          The strategies on food security that should be adopted in the country, in my view, are listed
           as follows:

          * confined the production of the staple food, rice, within the current paddy growing bowls -
             Muda, Kada, Sungai Manik, Tanjung Karang as Malaysia is a high cost producer of rice.
          * provide warehousing facilities to store the strategic food product to last a longer period
             in case of emergency situations - shortage of global supplies, low local production due to
             weather and other factors
          * look for better and more nutritious food such as sweet potato and fish
          * look at our friendly ASEAN neighbours like Vietnam, Myanmar for our rice needs.
          * devote effort on the things that we do best - growing oil palm and processing into all
             kinds of food and other bye-products
          * explore the seas as our production areas for food
        Published on January 26, 2013