Achieving food security in Malaysia

As rice remains a staple diet in Malaysia, the government has taken steps in reaching a 100% self-sufficiency level (SSL) to ensure national food security via National Agro-Food Policy (2011–2020) and the 11th Malaysia Plan (2016-2020). The recently announced 12th Malaysia Plan has also promised a newly implemented National Food Security Framework and the National Agrofood Policy 2021-2030 to ensure food security, reduced dependency on food imports, and sustainable production of food products with the utilisation of biomass and biogas while also promoting other high-value agri commodities. Not to mention boosting the nation’s self-sufficiency level in rice production to 75% by 2025. [1] 

However, climate change will not only threaten crop yields, livestock, and coastal and marine systems but also disrupt the global food chain supply and cause food shortages. The Asian Development Bank reported that even though the negative effects of climate change on agriculture will become much higher after 2030, its effects are already being experienced. The climate shock will cause increased food prices in Asia and the Pacific in 2030 that will lead to an estimated 38 million people being pushed into hunger. 

Rice

Table: Projected value-added of agriculture and agro-based industry (RM in 2010 prices), 2010-2021

Source: Yap Gin Bee, Food Supply Chain in Malaysia: Review of agricultural policies, public institutional set-up, and food regulations, Khazanah Research Institute, 7 August 2019, p. 100.

Malaysia has established eight main paddy granary areas in Peninsular Malaysia under the National Agricultural Policy 1984–1991 where paddy farmers were resettled into purposely reserved land designated as wetland paddy areas. The average production per hectare for these areas was 4.47 mt/ha were above the national average yield of 4.03 mt/ha for 2017. However, Malaysia’s total paddy cropping area remains one of the lowest in Southeast Asia with about 0.70 million hectares. [2] Studies have predicted higher precipitation variability and increased temperatures will adversely affect the granary areas and paddy in both the short and long run followed by food crops, forestry, fisheries, and livestock. [3] 

One study using a crop simulation model (DSSAT) and system dynamics approach showed that such climate change effects can be expected to reduce Malaysia’s rice yield by 12% due to an increase in temperature and 31% due to changes in rainfall pattern from 2013-2030. [4] The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations utilising an integrated assessment model also projects that rice production in East Asia would reduce by 50% in 2100 due to extreme weather patterns. Food sustainability costs in 2015 were estimated at USD 859.3 million, at a 30-35% shortage compared to national targets, and the predicted adaptation costs in 2065 would be USD 987.3 million at more than 40% shortage from national targets. [5] 

Hence, adaptation strategies like the selection of temperature-tolerant rice varieties, adjustment of planting dates, biofertilizers, and adoption of water conservation are important in ensuring yields that need to be incorporated in current policies to ensure the sustenance and development of the Malaysian rice industry. [4] Besides this, Malaysia being a major rice producer like other countries in Southeast Asia have the highest mitigation potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture than any other region in the world. They include reducing fertiliser-related emissions, reducing methane emissions from rice paddies and land-use change and producing fossil fuel substitutes. [6]

Malaysia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industries (MAFI) Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ronald Kiandee recently announced a proposal to the Cabinet to establish a food security committee between both federal and state governments. The minister also did an interview with Bernama in October 2021, Malaysia’s National News Agency, stating the need to reassess national rice security policies due to the impacts of climate change as “prolonged drought, together with a rise in temperature and humidity levels, can lead to a higher incidence of pest invasions and cause certain disease outbreaks which can affect rice crops”. 

According to MAFI’s data between 2017 and 2021, 40,828.28 hectares of paddy fields nationwide were flooded and another 9,336.45 hectares were damaged due to drought caused by  uneven annual rainfall, particularly in the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia which experiences frequent dry spells. On the other hand, 18% of 350,000 hectares of paddy fields have been exposed to frequent episodes of prolonged dry spells and further 25% of paddy will be affected instead by extreme rainfall. Thus, Malaysia’s rice yield has already begun to decrease in current climate conditions and the government has begun to incorporate initiatives like the newly launched SMART Large-Scale Field concept, alternative wetting and drying (AWD) innovation and other modern cultivation techniques, but their effectiveness remains to be seen.

Fisheries

Figure: Biodiversity of reef building corals, showing the location of the Coral Triangle. Colours indicate total species richness per ecoregion. 

Source: Foale S, et al. Food security and the Coral Triangle Initiative. Mar. Policy (2012), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2012.05.033, p. 12.

Malaysia is also heavily dependent on fish resources. Marine resources have also severely depleted due to warmer temperatures affecting fish migration patterns and incubation period of eggs. The Asia-Pacific Coral Triangle has high marine biodiversity containing 76% and 37% of the world’s coral and reef fish species respectively. [7] The Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI-CFF) was formed to mitigate strain on coastal resources and the effects of climate change. It is made up of six countries: Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste and Malaysia. 

As populations are not only reliant on marine resources for livelihoods there is also immense global demand on the coastal triangle’s resources. Since 1951, studies have predicted that the region is nearing or has already exceeded the capacity of demersal fish resources, also known as groundfish, that live near the bottom of seas or lakes. Indonesia, Malaysia, and Philippines have also been fishing down the food web over the past half century catching lower trophic level species. [8] Sea Around Us reported Malaysia’s marine catch in Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) where in 2018 Peninsular West was the highest at 950,340 followed by Peninsular East at 626,230, Sabah at 518,120, and Sarawak at 211,720. 

Some call for the CTI to not only focus on production or total supply but on access and consumption components of food security. Malaysia was recorded to have the highest per capita fish consumption out of all the coral triangle countries with its  highest at 60.23 kg per year in 2000-2002 to 51.1 kg per year in 2005-2007. Hence, transnational governance interventions to ensure sustainable marine fish resource management are needed urgently to not only ensure marine protected areas but also recover degraded fisheries, ensure biodiversity conservation and prevent efforts of over-exploitation of areas. [7]

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References

[1] Economic Planning Unit, 12th Malaysia Plan, Kuala Lumpur: Percetakan Nasional Malaysia Berhad, 9 July 2021, p. 1-27 https://rmke12.epu.gov.my/en

[2] Firdaus, RB Radin, Mou Leong Tan, Siti Rahyla Rahmat, and Mahinda Senevi Gunaratne. “Paddy, rice and food security in Malaysia: A review of climate change impacts.” Cogent Social Sciences 6, no. 1 (2020): 1818373, p. 1-2.

[3] Solaymani, Saeed. “Impacts of climate change on food security and agriculture sector in Malaysia.” Environment, Development and Sustainability 20, no. 4 (2018): 1575-1596, p. 1588.

[4] Vaghefi, Negin, Mad Nasir Shamsudin, Alias Radam, and Khalid Abdul Rahim. “Impact of climate change on food security in Malaysia: economic and policy adjustments for rice industry.” Journal of Integrative Environmental Sciences 13, no. 1 (2016): 19-35, p. 23, 33.

[5] Ahmed, Ferdous, Abul Quasem Al-Amin, Zeeda Fatimah Mohamad, and Santha Chenayah. “Agriculture and food security challenge of climate change: a dynamic analysis for policy selection.” Scientia Agricola 73 (2016): 311-321, p. 318.

[6] Asia Development Bank. The Economics of Climate Change in Southeast Asia: A Regional Review, April 2009, p. 142  http://www.climatechange-foodsecurity.org/uploads/ABD_ec_climate-change-se-asia.pdf

[7] Foale, Simon, Dedi Adhuri, Porfiro Aliño, Edward H. Allison, Neil Andrew, Philippa Cohen, Louisa Evans et al. “Food security and the coral triangle initiative.” Marine Policy 38 (2013): 174-183.

[8] Cruz-Trinidad, Annabelle, Porfirio M. Aliño, Rollan C. Geronimo, and Reniel B. Cabral. “Linking food security with coral reefs and fisheries in the coral triangle.” Coastal Management 42, no. 2 (2014): 160-182, p. 161, 163.

A writer and researcher who loves eating butter chicken. Working from Malaysia. Also speaks Malay and some Cantonese.