Food security is not about how much a nation is able to produce, but rather, in ensuring that essentials are available and affordable to its people.
A former minister said Malaysia should immediately strengthen its currency by getting more money into the country, while at the same time, explore new ways for the nation to be more self-reliant.
“There are two important elements at the moment – keeping the currency strong, and improving the income levels of Malaysians,” said Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek, who served as Agriculture and Agro-based Industry minister from 2015 to 2018.
“In fact, keeping the currency strong is key to everything. What’s the use of producing enough chicken if you don’t produce enough chicken feed and have to rely on imports? When that happens, the prices of chicken will continue to fluctuate based on the performance of our currency. Inevitably, the consumers are at the receiving end.”
“If food is available, but people cannot afford it, then it defeats the whole purpose of food security.”
The ringgit has been performing poorly in recent weeks. Today, it is at RM4.39 against the greenback.
Ahmad Shabery, a former lecturer at Universiti Malaya’s Faculty of Economics and Administration, said pegging the ringgit to the US dollar was not a real solution.
“Pegging the ringgit to the US dollar is an artificial valuation of your currency. That’s the last thing we should do,” he said.
Ahmad Shabery pointed out that the international definition of food security is availability, affordability, and food safety. He highlighted that Singapore had always ranked higher than Malaysia in terms of food security, despite the island republic importing over 90 per cent of its food.
According to the Global Food Security Index’s 2021 ranking, Singapore is at the 15th spot, while Malaysia is at 39. Thailand is placed at 51.
“The definition doesn’t say how much you need to produce in the country. Singapore practically doesn’t produce anything, but they are ranked among the top as food is available and affordable there.
“However, Malaysia is ranked better than Thailand. This, despite Thailand producing more rice, and other foods, than Malaysia. Their problem is affordability. Some people in the rural areas struggle to get food.”
He stressed that Malaysia had performed better in this area due to good infrastructure.
“You can still get staple food you see in Kuala Lumpur, in Kapit (Sarawak). The infrastructure plays a huge role. In this regard, we are quite well-off, as we have ports and airports everywhere.”
He said the government should focus on beefing up tourism to bring more money into the country.
“Sri Lanka tried to be popular by cutting taxes, but when there’s no money from tourism, they suffered badly and now, there’s chaos. We should strengthen our tourism efforts to get more people to spend in Malaysia.
“I’m in Johor and I’ve noticed that there’s been an influx of Singaporeans… This is good. But we need to get more people here in Malaysia.”
He added Malaysia needs to also bring in direct foreign investments and have more trading partners.
“Our biggest trading partner is China, but with their ‘zero Covid-19 policy’, their borders are shut. We have to reach out to other trading partners to get things moving.
“More importantly, we need to ensure that people can afford things. To do so, they need to earn more. Once the income levels increase and backed by a stronger ringgit, Malaysians will have little problems importing and buying food.”
Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Plantation Studies Institute director, Professor Shaufique Fahmi Ahmad Sidique, told Twentytwo13 yesterday that even if Malaysia succeeded in producing more food, there was no guarantee it would be secure or help bring down prices. He said before the country thinks of expanding crops, there were several prerequisites that needed to be addressed, namely, tackling poverty, and ensuring economic growth. Prices must also be controlled and stabilised.
Shaufique was responding to National Recovery Council chairman, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who stressed that food security should be addressed by the government and had called for the reactivation of a committee established in 2020, to look into the matter.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri yesterday revealed that the government had decided to do away with approved permits for Malaysians to import food.
He said this was to ensure there will always be sufficient food supply in the country.