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Scaling Up Productivity Holistically to Guarantee National Food Security

*This article was published in bernama.com on 2nd March 2022
 
 
By Erda Khursyiah Basir
 
Kuala Lumpur (Bernama) - Any policy embracing initiatives to boost food productivity holistically is deemed conducive to addressing national food security risks only if it takes into consideration the use of modern cultivation techniques as well as promotes entrepreneurship, according to an academic.
Datuk Dr Mad Nasir Shamsudin, a professor at the Faculty of Agriculture, Universiti Putra Malaysia, said a conducive policy would constitute investments in food production that are assessed not only in terms of personal gains but social returns and national security as well.
 
He said to stimulate investments in food production, incentives should be offered to the private sector to ensure that returns on investments in food crops are at least on a par with the returns from industrial crops.
 
"Our nation’s agricultural sector consists of industrial crops (such as oil palm) and food (food crops, livestock farming and fishery). Industrial crops like oil palm cover over five million hectares of land.
 
"This shows that the returns from investments in oil palm are relatively higher than the returns from investments in food production,” Mad Nasir, who is also a member of the National Agricultural Advisory Council, told Bernama.
 
Touching on the technology aspect, he said more funds must be allocated for the purpose of research and application of agricultural technology, including mechanisation and use of sensors, drones, weather tracking, automation, vertical farming, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, agricultural GPS technology, robotics and precision farming.
 
"As for entrepreneurship, food production must be undertaken by producers who are able to commercialise their operations with the use of sophisticated technology,” he added.
 
 
Four Dimensions
 
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), food security exists when “all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life".
 
Food security, in this respect, is defined by four dimensions, namely availability, accessibility, utilisation and stability.
 
Mad Nasir said food availability comprises a combination of factors — domestic food production levels, food imports and exports, and domestic food stocks.
 
Seeing a need for the transformation of the local food production industry, he said it can be developed into a modern, competitive and commercial sector by emulating the industrial food production model.
 
"What can be done (to achieve this) is implementing landuse policies to boost food output through the allocation of agricultural land for food production and other sources of food,” he said.
 
He also pointed out that the basic role of the agricultural sector as a supplier of food, jobs and income has changed in recent years in the context of climate change, environmental destruction, scarcity of resources and universal concern for food security.
 
"Thus, the new theme of agriculture goes beyond its (basic) policy functions to the improvement of conservation of resources and the environment and reduction of the poverty rate. The agricultural sector should, therefore, be re-evaluated… from merely serving as a food supplier, it now has various functions, particularly in environmental services,” he explained.
 
Meanwhile, food accessibility — another dimension of food security — refers to the financial ability of households to have access to safe and nutritious food in sufficient quantities.
 
The remaining two dimensions of food security – food utilisation and stability – refer to, among other things, food safety education at all levels of the supply chain and adequate food supplies at all times respectively.
 
 
Covid-19 and Climate Change
 
The two main factors behind insufficient food resources are shortages in food production due to climate change, rising production costs and manpower shortage; and inefficiencies in the food supply chain or market failures.
 
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic as well as the effects of climate change are also adding to food security issues.
 
"In general, insufficient food supplies will result in price hikes which will have an impact on the accessibility to food by households in the B40 group.
 
"Studies by Unicef in 2018 on 2,142 children staying in lowcost flats in Kuala Lumpur showed that 23 per cent of the children aged four experienced stunted growth; 22 per cent were underweight; and 32 per cent were thinner than their peers,” said Mad Nasir.
 
He added that studies done by local researchers in 2015 showed that 13.4 percent of Malaysian adults had to reduce their food portions and even skipped main meals due to financial constraints.
 
Measures to beef up the food supply chain include providing farmers direct access to the market and ensuring no disruptions in the supply of agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertiliser and animal feed.
 
Apart from that, there is also the need to reduce the post-harvest losses of farmers, which are expected to increase as a result of limitations in transportation and access to the market due to higher storage capacity and small-scale processing.
 
Storage of adequate food stocks is also vital in the event of an emergency and the government must also extend support to those who lose their livelihoods, particularly householders in the urban B40 communities without permanent jobs.
 
Stressing that food production is exposed to various risks and uncertainties, Mad Nasir said for the long term, a market risk assessment process must be developed to monitor and predict prices, in addition to instituting emergency preparedness planning through the establishment of an early warning system and implementation of disaster prevention measures such as irrigation and flood control schemes.
 
He also said that in terms of fuelling the growth of the food production sector and self-sufficiency levels (SSL) and strengthening national food security, food commodities that have the potential for development are livestock, aquaculture and vegetable cultivation.
 
Malaysia's poultry and egg SSL stood at 104.1 per cent and 119.1 per cent in 2019, with the nation being a net exporter of these products.
 
The same year, Malaysia’s rice SSL stood at 63 per cent, vegetables (44.4 per cent), fruits (78.2 per cent), beef (22.3 per cent), mutton (11.8 per cent), pork (92.3 per cent) and liquid milk (63 per cent).
 
 
Improve Nation's SSL in Rice
 
Meanwhile, Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industries (Mafi) Padi and Rice Regulatory Division director-general Azman Mahmood said during the 12th Malaysia Plan (2021-2025), the ministry would focus on efforts to raise the nation’s SSL in rice to 75 per cent by 2025.
 
"The government’s initiatives include the implementation of the Large-Scale Smart Padi Field programme (Smart SBB) and sitespecific nutrient management, and use of modern technology such as drones for the purpose of spraying pesticides and machinery for planting and harvesting.
 
"However, the achievement of this (75 per cent by 2025) target will also be subject to various factors beyond the control of Mafi, which include climate change. This is because padi cultivation is traditionally fully dependent on the yearly rainfall distribution and efficient water management schemes,” he told Bernama.
 
With regard to overcoming the impact of climate change on the nation’s padi and rice industry, Azman said Mafi has implemented short-term measures such as improving the irrigation systems in padi fields and building tube wells.
 
As for long-term measures, the ministry plans to implement the underground reservoir and coastal reservoir programme to enable excess rainwater to be reused for the purpose of irrigating padi fields, he added.
 
Recognising the fact that technology constitutes an important element in efforts to boost the nation’s padi and rice production, various measures are currently being, and will be, implemented to modernise the padi and rice industry.
 
These include the Agrofood Mechanisation and Automation Programme to pave the way for the use of machinery-based applications and implements to facilitate all work processes throughout the value chain; agriculture sector systems and technologies such as plant factories, individual quick freezing (IQF), tube wells; Internet of Things (IoT) for the purpose of practising smart farming including the development of agro-robotics; and drones for spraying fertiliser and sowing seeds.
 
In addition to forming strategic collaborations with agencies under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation to introduce the industry’s latest technologies to the field, Mafi is also working with private technology companies to produce appropriate technology for application in agricultural areas.
 
The ministry is also encouraging innovation among farmers and encouraging them to come up with agricultural innovations that are appropriate for the crops they are cultivating.
 
"We are also stepping up research, development and commercialisation activities to ensure the sustainability of the nation’s rice production.
 
"This is being done through the introduction of various high-yielding seeds that are resilient to climate change and are environmentally friendly,” he said, adding that efforts are also being made to improve the infrastructure and facilities at rice granaries.
 
 
Farmers' Welfare
 
Azman also said that Mafi’s SSL targets are set in two policy documents, namely the 12th Malaysia Plan (2021-2025) and National Agrofood Policy (20212030), at 75 per cent and 80 per cent respectively.
 
With regard to this, he said Mafi’s focus is on boosting domestic padi output.
 
"This is important in order to strengthen food supply security and the nation’s selfsufficiency level for rice, more so as the nation’s rice cultivation area dwindles yearly and the population rises and the Covid-19 pandemic (continues to grip the nation), which have pushed up the demand for rice,” he said.
 
Elaborating on the Smart SBB programme, Azman said it aims to boost padi and rice outputs via more orderly and efficient management of padi fields and agricultural inputs.
 
The programme also hopes to enhance the income of farmers by allowing them to enter into smart collaborations with industry players using the contract farming approach.
 
"The Smart SBB programme is targeting to increase the national average padi yield to 7.0 metric tonnes a hectare within the 12th Malaysia Plan period compared with the current average yield of 3.5 to 4.3 metric tonnes a hectare.
 
The programme’s long-term target is to develop 150,000 hectares of padi land each season or 300,000 hectares a year,” he said.
 
The Smart SBB programme also hopes to get rid of middlemen who, traditionally, have taken advantage of padi farmers for their personal gain.
 
"For a long time, padi planters and buyers (industry players) remained apart and all the buying and selling operations were carried out by the middlemen who reaped a profit of about RM110 to RM150 per metric tonne.
 
"Taking into account the national average padi production of 2.9 million metric tonnes, this industry has lost about RM500 million to middlemen alone throughout the supply chain. This matter should be resolved quickly as this money belongs to the farmers,” he added.
 
On Nov 20 last year, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the government was striving to boost the productivity of the nation’s padi and rice industry in a proactive manner, including introducing the latest technologies and empowering its capabilities to face future challenges.
 
The prime minister, however, said this responsibility should not be shouldered by the government and the farmers alone but needed the joint efforts of all the people, in keeping with the elements of inclusiveness and togetherness which are among the main thrusts of the Keluarga Malaysia (Malaysian Family) concept.
 
This Keluarga Malaysia concept is also the highlight of ‘Program Jelajah Aspirasi Keluarga Malaysia’ (Malaysian Family Aspirations Tour Programme), the next leg of which will take place from March 3 till March 5 at Dataran Angsana Johor Bahru Mall, Johor. During the three-day programme, various ministries and agencies will be at hand to serve the public directly. Other highlights include the Keluarga Malaysia Job Guarantee programme and Keluarga Malaysia sales.
 
- BERNAMA

Date of Input: 12/03/2022 | Updated: 12/03/2022 | syazreena

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