Emulate the Danish model

LETTERS: The Covid-19 pandemic hit some countries like an earthquake. People's lives had been shattered and economies were topsy-turvy.

The contagion effects became more lethal with new virus variants, causing more disruption and widening the chasm between the affluent and poor countries.

In February this year, Russia's catastrophic invasion of Ukraine sent shockwaves across the globe.

More than 11 million people have been displaced. Ordinary men, women and children are suffering.

The economic consequences of the war are far and wide, threatening to widen the inequality among the people globally.

In Malaysia, the prices of goods across the board have been escalating.

About 60 per cent of our food are imported. In 2020, food imports totalled RM55.4 billion (US$12.67 billion). One of the factors that contributed to the surge in food prices is the depreciation of the ringgit vis-a vis the US dollar.

Globally, people, especially the poor, are facing immense hardship in terms of dwindling purchasing power.

Government subsidies can only help to a certain extent because no one can control the external forces, like the inability to manage disruptions along the food supply chain. This is attributed to hikes in oil prices, increase in prices of fertilisers and shortfalls in supplies of commodities.

The increase in food prices is affecting the B40 and M40 groups, and immediate action needs to be taken to address their woes.

I don't see any long-term concrete measures being taken to reduce food imports. Proposals put forward are always a knee-jerk response like fixing a ceiling price and stockpiling essential commodities.

I think a special committee should be set up to formulate long-term plans to ensure food security.

Perhaps we should revisit former prime minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein's "Green Book" plan for a start. Malaysians should be encouraged to cultivate crops and engage in aquaculture, and be given incentives.

State governments should identify arable land for farming and aquaculture, and empower rural and urban dwellers to engage in farming.

Community farming should be encouraged. Community farms have a dual purpose: planting of vegetables and providing an avenue for people to enhance community spirit.

Sadly, our community farm in Bangsar is facing problems. If forced to cease activities, it will be a loss to the people of Bangsar, in particular, and Kuala Lumpur folk in general, as visitors from the city often converge on our little farm during the weekends.

Malaysia should build a food ecosystem along the value chain. It should incorporate research and development (R&D), integrated farming, manufacturing, collaborations with agencies like Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (Fama) and Felda, logistics, and marketing and distribution.

When I was the director of MIDA Stockholm, I wrote a report on the food sector in Denmark, a country of slightly more than five million people but produces five times more food than it requires for its population.

We should emulate the Danish model for our food security. Sadly, I don't think anyone took notice of my report.

Denmark has developed a food network to incorporate R&D by universities and research institutions, and comprises integrated farming, manufacturing, development of food cooperatives, food associations, logistics and marketing and distribution. There is a synergistic collaboration between all sectors.

The time is ripe to encourage our people to be involved in innovative solutions in food cultivation by engaging in vertical and indoor farming.

Singapore is a good model, too. Singaporeans are engaging in vertical and industrial farming in designated buildings.

Malaysia should learn from countries that have reinvented themselves after facing severe hardships.

Vietnam is one. After the war ended in 1975, the country was so impoverished. Today, a tourist who visits any city in Vietnam would marvel at the spectacular development that has taken place in the past few decades.

Surely, Malaysia, too, can follow suit and now is the opportune time for the food sector to seize on the opportunities.

In short, any country faced with a crisis must reinvent itself in order to move forward.


Kuala Lumpur

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times

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