Malaysia — The announcement that the Government would spend RM4bil to counter food shortages and increased food prices (RM4bil food security plan Sunday Star, April 20) presents uncertainties.
The Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association (Fomca) is concerned that this may not adequately address food security, and would result in long-term harm to the environment and the national budget.
Fomca, together with its affiliated organisations, have long been monitoring food security in Malaysia, not only from the consumer aspect, but also from the production and environmental aspects as well.
The approach adopted by the Government might not guarantee long-term food security, incorporating solutions that holistically aim for sustainability and achievability.
In the plan to ensure food security, the RM4bil fund will be used to increase food production by fully realising rice self-sufficiency through transforming Sarawak into the new rice bowl of Malaysia, and increasing production of fruits and vegetables.
The plan also boldly includes utilisation of the fund to purchase fertilisers.
We are perturbed with this plan, which may drain a high percentage of the fund for chemical inputs and benefit only the agrochemical companies, while leaving a small percentage for infrastructure development such as irrigation, roads, and other forms of insurance that would encourage farming activities.
The Government should at this point adopt a more economically and environmentally sustainable approach to ensure food security, especially when prices of goods keep soaring.
To increase food production, the Government must ensure that production cost is kept reasonably low to ensure profits for producers as well as reasonable market price for consumers.
The food security plan should focus on the farming communities. The policy must ensure equitable distribution of socio-economic development, and fair trade for their products.
In carrying out its plan to make Sarawak the new rice bowl of Malaysia, the Government should also reflect on the environmental damage caused in Kalimantan when the Indonesian government planned the Mega-Rice Project to convert 1.4 million hectares of peat swamp into rice cultivation.
It ended in disaster as the peat swamp dried up due to excavated drainage and irrigation channels, leading to many environmental problems such as deforestation, rampant logging, and forest fires.