Prof Jomo: Enhance food security, address poor diet and bad eating habits

Food security has been severely overlooked in Malaysia along with nutrition intake, resulting in the rise of non-communicable diseases (NCD) in Malaysia.

Prominent economist Prof Jomo Kwame Sundaram highlighted that the decision-makers had never thought about food security in a more integrated manner.

“Unfortunately for almost a century since the colonial period, we have been prioritising rice production … rice self-sufficiency. We have never thought about food security in a far more integrated fashion. And we have never seen it in relation to improving the nutrition of Malaysians,” said Jomo.

“We have a great number of NCDs in Malaysia … current Malaysian life expectancy is about 75 years with the last 10 years of that averagely being non-healthy years. Thus, what is called average healthy life expectancy is severely compromised, closer to about 65.

He said those in authority need to think about improving food while pointing out two major problems; first, the population is not eating enough micronutrients, particularly vitamins and minerals, and second, the rise of NCDs due to poor eating habits.

“We have a perverse situation. We have an additional problem … the use of a lot of toxic agro chemicals.

“We have proposed for some time now … unfortunately none of the three governments (Barisan Nasional, Pakatan Harapan and Perikatan Nasional) have paid any attention to it … we believe it is important for all children, especially primary school children, to have a school meal programme, a lunch programme.

“That has tremendous social benefits as we know. The whole idea is to have at least one meal a day in school which fulfils at least the micronutrient requirements and provides some of the macronutrient needs as well.”

Jomo, who was part of former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Council of Eminent Persons, said this during the ‘Beyond Vision 2020: Growth With Equity In The New Decade’ webinar organised by Sekhar Institute, The Vibes and Petra Group this morning.

The other speakers were World Bank Country Manager for Malaysia Dr Firas Raad, social activist Tawfik Ismail, University Nottingham of Malaysia Pro-Vice-Chancellor Prof Graham Kendall, senior fellow at ISEAS-Yusuf Ishak Singapore Lee Hwok Aun and Petra Group chairman Datuk Vinod Sekhar.

Jomo added the school programme can be done at relatively low cost as it will also promote the consumption of local vegetables and fruits.

He, however, stressed there must be a “great deal” of integration between various ministries and stakeholders in making such a programme a success.

“What we really need is an all government approach, to work with society, to convince society.”

“If the public doesn’t understand the rationale, (for example) why one in 10 is allowed to go to office, then you are not going to have public support for a public policy of great importance. So there is a great deal of suspicion.”

There are several food programmes in Malaysian schools – the Supplementary Feeding Programme (RMT) targetting children from households below the poverty line, School Milk Programme and Program Hidangan Berkhasiat di Sekolah (HiTS). However, there is no single programme covering all pupils and students in public primary or secondary schools.

Finance Minister Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Tengku Abdul Aziz, had during the tabling of Budget 2021 recently, said an allocation of RM420 million had been set aside for RMT and the School Milk Programme, as they will be carried out daily instead of twice a week, for children of lower income group families.

Khazanah Research Institute, in a discussion paper ‘Understanding School Feeding in Malaysia‘ published earlier this year, said the nation required interventions at schools to address poor eating habits and malnutrition.

“Children’s rapid development underscores the need to make sure children eat right. Experiences of school feeding show that providing free meals to students can resolve these issues and gives other benefits, including improving education outcomes, better socialising students, invigorating food agriculture, generating higher and more stable incomes for food farmers, and assisting households by reducing food expenses and improving food supply,” the report read.

“There is an urgent need for better cooperation among the different ministries and with other public stakeholders in improving the implementation of school feeding. Education, Health and Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministries have direct stakes in improving school feeding and must better coordinate to ensure its success.

“HiTS has also demonstrated the active roles that parents can play in school feeding programmes. Farmers, preferably from close by, can provide safe and healthy produce, which is not only good for the children but also the farmers and the community as a whole. School administrators must be active and continue to monitor the programme to further improve it.”

Here’s the round-up of The News Normal today.


Tired of unqualified politicians and ‘frogs’, Gerak Independent (GI) is eager to produce capable and quality independent candidates to stand for elections.

Lawyer-cum-activist Siti Kasim said candidates will go through a strict vetting process and will be subjected to a public hearing.

“Only those who passed through the steps will be placed on mobile application People Elect which will be ready by March next year or earlier,” said Siti Kasim.

“No more political parties shoving their candidates down our throats two weeks before an election.”

She added through People Elect, voters would be able to track their GI candidates.

“We, the rakyat, will own the MPs … not the political parties.”

Siti Kasim insisted GI is not a political party. She refused to reveal the exact number of applicants who have signed up thus far or where it plans to place its candidates.

GI is hoping for public donations to fund its cause.


Police have been roped in to detect 400 residents of Medan 88 in Bandar Baru Salak Tinggi who did not return home after being informed that barbed wires would be installed there for the implementation of the Enhanced Movement Control Order (EMCO).

Sepang District Disaster Management Committee chairman Mohamad Zain A. Hamid said police will detect these “missing” residents through their MySejahtera registrations or manual registrations at shops or premises they visited in the area.


A 34-year-old man thought he could get away by driving against traffic on the North-South Expressway to avoid a roadblock in his bid to return to Bidor, Perak for Deepavali.

He spotted a roadblock at the exit of the Sungkai toll around 6pm yesterday and decided to drive his Perodua Axia against traffic for about 1.4km before causing an accident at KM355.4.

The driver of a Toyota Rush was unable to avoid the Axia and crashed head-on before it spun a few times. A trailer, transporting glove-making machines, then crashed into the car.

The 25-year-old Toyota Rush driver sustained minor injuries while the suspect and the lorry driver were not injured. Police picked the suspect in Bidor this morning. He would be investigated for reckless driving.


Many sectors have been hit hard by the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) but none as badly as the early childcare segment.

There are 25,000 registered kindergartens – 18,000 under the government and 7,000 privately run – as well as 5,000 childcare centres nationwide.

These kindergartens employ about 60,000 teachers and teaching assistants while childcare centres have about 18,000 employees. However, they all have been ordered closed and this has severely disrupted education during the formative years of our children.

Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rina Harun today announced that nurseries and childcare centres are allowed to operate but the operators must obtain the approval of the respective state Welfare Departments and follow the stipulated standard operating procedures for CMCO prior to this.

“The ministry understands the economic sector must function as normal and parents have to go out to work. But every centre must check with the state Welfare Departments. The ministry has instructed every state department to scrutinise applications for the centres to operate,”  Rina told reporters at the ministry.


Malaysian Football League (MFL) has cancelled the Malaysia Cup after its appeal to host the nation’s oldest football tournament was shot down by the National Security Council.

This comes after the government imposed the Conditional Movement Control Order in most states in Malaysia from Nov 9 to Dec 6. Following the government’s decision, MFL proposed several suggestions to safeguard the wellbeing of the players and team officials but they were shot down.

MFL, had in a statement, said it was not feasible to postpone the tournament as the players’ contracts end on Nov 30.

It remains unclear if MFL and the teams will be penalised by the title sponsor Telekom Malaysia and other sponsors over the decision.