We, the individuals and organisations endorsing this memorandum, are very concerned that the war in Ukraine and the associated economic sanctions on Russia will precipitate a food crisis in Malaysia within the next few months.
Russia and Ukraine are the sources of 30% of the wheat transacted in international markets and 19% of international corn exports. Shortages of these two grains will lead to a marked rise in the prices of these and other food products.
Malaysians consumed 1.8 million tons of wheat flour in 2021. This is quite high as our total rice consumption for 2021 was 2.7 million tons.
Rice and wheat represent the major sources of carbohydrates for our population. Thirty percent of the rice we consume is imported, while all of the wheat we consume is imported (largely from the US, Australia and Canada). We also import 3.8 million tons of corn every year to use as animal fodder.
Malaysia’s food import bill is now more than RM56bn per year.
The reduction of wheat and corn exports from Russia and the Ukraine will lead to an increase in the price of rice, as the increasing prices of wheat will induce people across the world to consume more rice as an alternative to wheat.
Apart from this, Russia is also the producer of about 11.5 million barrels of petroleum per day. This is equivalent to 12% of total global production.
The reduction of petroleum exports from Russia due to the sanctions is already sending petroleum prices to record levels. The increase in the cost of freight transport as well as of fertilisers is going to put even more upward pressure on the prices of foodstuff.
There is therefore a high likelihood that the supply of basic foodstuffs in Malaysia is going to be affected and prices of wheat, rice and meat products are going to go up significantly.
It is important that the National Security Council and the cabinet committee on food security respond immediately to this scenario that will affect most adversely the poorer sectors of the Malaysian population.
We wish to suggest eight steps that the Malaysian government could take to alleviate the impending food crisis. We hope the National Security Council and/or the cabinet committee will convene a meeting of experts and stakeholders to decide which of the suggestions listed below should be implemented in the immediate future.
- Encourage the cultivation of tubers such as potato, sweet potato, tapioca, yam and other tubers. These tubers are a good alternative source of carbohydrates if the prices of wheat and rice go up too much, and they have a fairly short crop cycle
- Our market gardeners should be incentivised to plant tubers. If it is technically feasible, the 250,000 rubber smallholders in the country should be encouraged to inter-crop tubers between their rubber trees. The Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority could enter into forward contracts with these small farmers to ensure a minimum price for these tubers
- plantations with more than 10,000 acres should be given quarterly quotas for tuber production depending on their acreage
- the popular media should be used to popularise recipes for these various tubers
- A survey should be carried out immediately to identify all the food producers in Malaysia – padi farmers, market gardeners, orchard owners, livestock rearers and fisherfolk. Firm steps should be taken to ensure that these food suppliers can continue their activities without any harassment. Any attempt to evict food farmers should be stopped and any development activity that is having a negative impact on food production in Malaysia should be identified and stopped
- The cultivation of corn should be encouraged. Corn is an important component of animal fodder and at present much of this is imported from Brazil and Argentina. The Department of Agriculture should coordinate surveys to ascertain whether corn can be planted as an inter-crop in rubber smallholdings. If this is possible, it will represent an additional source of income for smallholders
- Our national land use masterplan has to be reviewed. At present, of the 32.9 million hectares that comprise Malaysia:
- 55% is gazetted as forest (though about two-thirds of that has been logged to some extent). Our recommendation is that land currently gazetted as forest should be left undisturbed, and the portions that have been logged need to be reforested
- 23% of the land in Malaysia, 7.8 million hectares, is being used for agriculture. Of this, only about 1.5 million hectares is used for growing food, including the 0.7 million hectares of padi fields in the country. Five million hectares are planted with oil palm while another 1.1 million with rubber
The crucial issue is whether a portion of plantation land in Malaysia should be converted for food production, as apart from the current Ukraine crisis, we also have to take into account the probability that climate change will lead to food supply issues in the future. This might require a new act of parliament mandating large plantation companies to use a certain specified portion of their landholdings for the production of rice, corn and other food products.
The planting of vegetables, tubers and corn should be encouraged in housing estates and also in rural areas
- Vacant public land as well as unused land belonging to government-linked or private companies should be leased out to farmers and fish rearers to produce food for our population
- Given the high and rising costs of imported animal feed and fertilisers, immediate steps should be taken to recycle food waste from markets, restaurants and households to be used either as animal feed or as organic fertilisers. Chicken droppings from chicken farms and the waste of oil palm mills too can be used to produce certain types of fertilisers. Our local universities should be asked to look into these matters urgently
- The National Security Council and the cabinet committee on food security should monitor closely the food supply situation in the country. If food costs for the population go up despite all the measures taken, then the following programmes would need to be rolled out:
- Cash transfers of RM200 monthly to all families from the bottom 40% households until the prices of food can be kept at reasonable levels. (Our 3.2 million such families would need a monthly budget of RM640m)
- Food kitchens (in collaboration with NGOs and religious groups) to provide hot meals in all our towns for those families who are otherwise going to end up hungry for the day or night
We hope that the National Security Council and the cabinet committee will consider these suggestions seriously and act immediately to forestall the development of a serious food shortage problem in Malaysia.
We also would like an appointment to meet some representatives of the National Security Council to discuss the issues brought up in this memorandum at greater depth.
- Agora Society Malaysia
- Caram Asia
- Childline Foundation
- Family Frontiers
- Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations (Fomca)
- Gabungan Petani Perak
- Health Equity Initiatives
- International Movement for a Just World
- Jaringan Penternak Nasional, Marhein
- Justice for Sisters
- Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall
- Komuniti Pondok Sukun (Kompos)
- Malaysia Consumer Movement
- Malaysian Institute of Sustainable Agriculture (Misa)
- Malaysian Treatment Access and Advocacy Group (MTAAG+)
- North South Initiatives
- Our Journey
- Parti Murba
- Parti Rakyat Malaysia
- Parti Sosialis Malaysia
- Penang Tolak Tambak
- Persatuan Agroekologi Malaysia
- Persatuan Pendidikan dan Penyelidikan untuk Pengguna-Pengguna Pahang
- Persatuan Petani Moden Kanthan
- Persatuan Sahabat Wanita
- Pertubuhan Alam Sekitar Sejahtera Malaysia
- Pertubuhan Persaudaraan Pesawah Malaysia (PeSAWAH)
- Pusat Komas
- Sahabat Alam Malaysia
- Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia
- Sustainable Development Network Malaysia
- Third World Network
- TrEES (Treat Every Environment Special)
- Women’s Aid Organisation