Agriculture: The next engine of growth

Food security experts say the country needs to adopt best practices of countries such as Finland, Ireland and Norway that have been performing well 


AN ESTIMATED 840 million of the world’s population will face food insecurity by 2030 if the issue is not addressed immediately, according to the United Nations. 

This is especially urgent with the increase in climate change and global population as well as supply chain disruptions such as those experienced during the pandemic. 

Hence, food security has become a top priority in many countries as of late. 

In Malaysia, the Agriculture and Food Security Ministry (MAFS) said the food security situation is still good, but the country needs to address some disruptions caused by geopolitical tensions that have impacted poultry supply. 

Currently, Malaysia is ranked 41st at the global level for Global Food Security Index (GFSI) with a score of 69.9, 10th in the Asia-Pacific region and second after Singapore (73.1) in the Asean region. 

However, MAFS emphasised that a country’s food security should not be measured competitively. 

“There are differences in need and demand for food according to diet trends and preferences, also the economic background is a contributing factor that makes a country ranked better,” MAFS told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) recently. 

For Malaysia to improve its rank in the GFSI, food security experts are saying that the country needs to adopt best practices of countries such as Finland, Ireland and Norway that have been performing well. 

According to GFSI, these three countries have the highest score in all four categories that were in line with food security dimensions. 

MAFS said the Finnish food system is resource-efficient and waste-free and the country pioneers and runs pilots on research, innovations and new operating methods that aim for a sustainable food system. 

Similarly, Ireland is promoting a sustainable food system approach in its policies, especially in agriculture. 

This comes with Ireland’s efforts to encourage and facilitate knowledge transfer and investment to support innovation in the agro-food sector and in scaling up the production of climate-resilient and nutritious foods. 

In line with GPSI’s vision, Norway also places food security as a top priority with US$300 million (RM1.28 billion) in grants allocated for food security initiatives in 2022. 

Norway works towards strengthening local and regional value chains and adaptation of food production to climate change. 

MAFS observed that tackling food waste is also an agenda towards creating a sustainable food system. 

Similarly, Singapore manages to secure food supply through imports while maintaining its nutritional and food safety standards. 

On another note, MAFS Minister Mohamad Sabu shared that there is a misconception in terms of GFSI understanding of the ability of a country to provide a better situation of food to the people based on the state of the agriculture development there. 

“This is because the index of GFSI is the accumulation of various factors and affordability of Singapore is better than Malaysia, because Singapore’s per capita income is better than Malaysia, thus enabling them to have more purchasing power than Malaysians,” he said in a recent statement. 

Besides, he added that the Singapore government adopts open trade to food and agriculture products which enable importers to import the best and most affordable food or agriculture products driven by markets. 

The other aspect, of why the next-door country fared better than Malaysia in GPSI, is in terms of research and development (R&D) where Malaysia scores 48.7 for agricultural research and development expenditure, while Singapore scores 83.2. 

Despite the challenges, Malaysia is still ranked in the top 10 best positions in Asia Pacific and second best in Asean in food security based on the GFSI index. 

MAFS disclosed that the agri-culture sector only contributed 7.1% of the total GDP in 2021 with an average share of 7.5% for the period from 2015 to 2021. 

Based on the report, the sector seemingly became a less powerful engine of Malaysia’s economic growth. 

Regardless, MAFS still believed that agriculture plays an important role as a food provider, job creator and generates income from export products and as an input to other industries. 

Meanwhile, understanding R&D plays a crucial role in the sector. The government acknowledges the importance of forging strong partnerships between research organisations and industry. 

In the ministry’s National Agro-food Policy 2021-2030 (DAN2.0), two strategies under the Policy Thrust embrace modernisation and smart agriculture. 

Reflecting on those strategies, MAFS intends to intensify research, development, commercialisation and innovation (RDCI) in catalysing modernisation of the agro-food sector by increasing both fiscal and non-fiscal resources for research activities. 

“We need to look into reducing the time taken for intellectual property certification processes and intensifying international knowledge exchanges,” MAFS said. 

It will also invest in more innovation programmes and activities to support the advancement of agro-tech by strengthening the link between basic research output with industrial application to increase the rate of contribution by RDCI towards modernisation of the agro-food subsector. 

“Some of the programmes are also offering incentives in terms of tax deductions through the application of local innovations,” it said. 

Furthermore, these incentives on RDCI are currently being implemented in government agencies or government-linked companies such as the Malaysian Investment Development Authority (Mida), Malaysia Research Accelerator for Technology and Innovation (MRanti), Malaysian Technology Development Corp Sdn Bhd (MTDC) and Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd. 

MAFS said moving forward, the improvement of the GFSI needs to focus on investment in R&D to increase the country’s productivity and reduce food production costs through modernisation and technology. 

Applauding the government’s support and incentives for the sector, Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi) DG Datuk Dr Mohamad Zabawi Abdul Ghani noted that the agricultural sector continues to be one of the most important growth engines for the national economy. 

In the recent development, Mardi has collaborated with Tehran’s Agricultural Research, Education and Extension Organisation to enhance bilateral cooperation in agriculture, especially in the field of research and development. 

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Pineapple Industry Board (MPIB) expressed its excitement with the RM9 million allocation from the Johor government, hoping this will realise the board’s night farming plan to increase pineapple exports from 400,000 to 700,000 tonnes a year by 2025. 

Hence, MPIB plans to extend night farming for the MD2 pineapples as these are sought after for export, especially to the Middle East and Europe. 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition