KRI: Climate change among major challenges for food security

Lack of affordability to safe and nutritious food for poor people remains a global issue, especially in conflict situations

by NUR HAZIQAH A MALEK/ pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

CLIMATE change, excessive use of antibiotics in food production and increased exposure to junk food are among the biggest challenges in national food security.

Khazanah Research Institute (KRI) senior advisor Professor Dr Jomo Kwame Sundaram (picture) said the welfare of farmers and consumers’ health and needs should be considered for the formation of national food policy.

“The nation’s population is projected to rise to 41.5 million by 2040, and ministries and government agencies should approach food security issues in an integrated fashion,” he said during a panel discussion titled “Achieving Food Security for all Malaysians” last week.

According to him, lack of affordability to safe and nutritious food for poor people remains a global issue, especially in conflict situations.

“Global warming is also a big issue to food security. In the past, we have been very successful in raising food production but it seemed to have reached certain limits and the rise of food prices.

“And the other problem is bad nutrition. The food which is available to us is causing us to be unhealthy because it is not safe due to the use of agrochemicals and the excessive use of antibiotics in food production. There is very little control for this,” he said.

Due to excessive exposure to antibiotics that are present in livestock, the human body can become less responsive to antibiotics prescribed for health complications.

Food security is defined by its availability for the entire nation, whereby all households and individuals are able to afford food, its accessibility and healthy nutrition.

Malaysia ranked 40 out of 113 countries in the Global Food Security Index last year.

Based on KRI’s study, food availability has sufficient supply but due to permits, there is oligopolistic control, while food prices have increased more than the Consumer Price Index, from 2003 to 2017.

As for food affordability, the growth of median household income versus food and non-alcoholic beverages (F&NAB) index from 2007 through 2016 and growth of median wages versus growth of F&NAB index in 2010 to 2016 shows that food prices have risen less than income.

While median household income doubled during the period, food at home increased by 43.9% and median wages increased in tandem with food prices.

Jomo said the nation should move away from rice self-sufficiency as a determinant of food security and focus on the agenda for affordable healthy diet.

“Food security has always been a concern; however, a policy that has stuck around is the British colonial policy.

“When the British were ruling us, their main concern was to maximise the amount of foreign exchange which the colonies could produce, being colonies like Malaya. So, for them, the less rice we imported, the better for them,” he said.

Jomo said the policy continued even during the Japanese occupation and at one point the production of rice and imports were disrupted.

“This focus on rice for self-sufficiency has continued for many years, but the world has changed.

“Take, for example, a country like Singapore, which doesn’t produce a single food on their own, and yet they are the top in terms of food security, according to The Economist,” he said.

He said food security can be ensured by other means, and this country should not have to keep producing everything by itself.

“What is very important for us right now is to try to make sure that Malaysians have nutritious and safe food.

“Right now, we are doing very badly in terms of obesity, diabetes, and we have a lot of stunted children and a lot of women are anaemic, which affects their lives significantly on top of their menses that comes every month,” Jomo said.

According to KRI, Malaysia is facing a double burden of malnutrition whereby there are rising levels of obesity and still high levels of stunting.

Food safety is also currently experiencing lax enforcement of existing regulations, affecting both health and food export reputation, evident by the rise of antimicrobial resistance, a condition that is caused by the excessive use of antibiotics.

The KRI presentation suggested that genetically modified crops will require proper scientific scrutiny and seed regulations will need to be treated with care.

Food security policy should also be multifaceted in order to ensure healthy and diversified diets to include good nutrition to all, as well as include alternative policy options to enhance farmers’ wellbeing.