Two things should worry us, and for good reasons. One is food and the other water.
Lack of both will be a national security issue.
Figures provided by the Department of Statistics should worry national planners into action, if they have not done so already. Our food import bill was a whopping RM50 billion last year, and it is growing year by year. The reason is very simple to see.
Of the 15 million people employed in Malaysia, only about 1.8 million are involved in agriculture in one form or another.
For a country of 32 million people this is a percentage that should distress us a lot. We cannot hope to sweat such a small number of farmers to feed a fast growing nation. And soon — in 2030 — Malaysia will grow to 36 million.
To complicate the matter, we are big at wasting food. According to Solid Waste Corporation Management (SWCorp), Malaysians generate 16,687.5 tonnes of food waste daily, an amount that could feed 12 million Malaysians three times a day, according to Oswald Timothy Edward, a senior lecturer with UiTM’s faculty of Business and Management.
In his words, a month or two of such waste will fill all 88 levels of the Petronas Twin Towers to the brim.
Not enough land is being devoted to agriculture, too. According to Professor Dr Abdul Shukor Juraimi of Universiti Putra Malaysia, just one million hectares are used for agriculture.
Picture this: 1.8 million farmers — and mostly ageing at that — working on one million hectares to feed 32 million mouths.
No one should miss the lethality of the statistics. We may be ranked 40 among 113 nations in the 2018 Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Food Security Index, but it should not make us complacent. Food security is national security.
So is water security. Malaysians, on average, consumed 280 litres in 2014 (latest figure available).
With annual droughts getting more serious, water security will be a major issue. Add to it development pressure and degradation of water resources, you get a land very much under water stress.
Only two states in Malaysia — Sabah and Sarawak — are rated as being of low vulnerability. And that too of moderately low vulnerability. The rest are in danger zone. Dry for long will spell disaster.
All this point to one thing. Food and water are strategic resources, and they have to be developed as such. Otherwise we will be faced with a serious national security issue.
Khazanah Nasional Berhad may just be the right entity to make this happen.
The government-linked company was set up to realise two investment objectives: commercial and strategic. Food and water fall smack under the latter.
Now that it is starting to prune its stake in non-strategic assets, the time may just be right for the national sovereign fund to put some of the money into food and water business.