Home Civil Society Voices High food prices force consumers to live beyond their means

High food prices force consumers to live beyond their means

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Consumers are living beyond their means because of the escalating food prices. The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) has been highlighting the astronomical increase in food prices for decades but the calls have fallen on deaf ears.

We are now experiencing a high cost of living caused by multiple factors, and one reason is that we have been too dependent on imported food, which negatively affects the outflow of the ringgit, particularly when our currency is weak.

In mid-2018 a report revealed that liquid milk produced nationwide is sufficient to meet only 5% of domestic needs, the rest of which had to be imported. This is obvious as we can see in the table below.

CAP has been actively advocating agriculture for decades. Malaysia miserably failed in the agricultural sector because we are highly dependent on imported agricultural produce. There is so much contrast with our immediate neighbour, Thailand, which developed its agricultural sector in 1960, utilising underused land and labour.

Malaysia reportedly spent a staggering RM3.2bn on imported vegetables and fruits in 2016. Our agricultural priority has been misplaced because in 2012, Malaysia had 5.1 million hectares of oil palm cultivation compared to 52,582ha of vegetables and 205,467ha of fruits. The acreage for both vegetables and fruit is 258,049ha or a mere 5.1% of that used for oil palm cultivation.

The declining ringgit has also affected the cost of production in terms of costlier farming equipment and agricultural chemicals.

In all, we do not have a self-sustainable food production policy – which makes us highly vulnerable in times like now. Moreover, the food supply chain from the farm to the table is grossly inefficient thereby allowing multiple tiers of middlemen to profiteer from the process.

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There were also claims of syndicates controlling the food supply and prices.

For fisheries, fishermen, especially the trawlers, have been indiscriminately depleting marine resources. It was predicted that the waters around the country would be depleted of fish by 2048. The declining fish population was attributed to the use of banned equipment such as rawa sorong (drag nets) harvesting more a sustainable level.

Besides overfishing, the use of non-selective gear also hauled non-commercial fish, juveniles of commercial fish and other marine species as well. Instead of releasing the non-commercial fish and juveniles of commercial fish back into the sea, they send these for processing into animal food.

When the food chain is broken from indiscriminate fishing, it will affect the entire aquatic ecosystem. With a depleting wealth of marine resources, we can expect fish prices to skyrocket. Big jawed jumber (ikan serumbu), East Asian fourfinger threadfin (ikan kurau), sleeper goby (ikan ubi) and the greenback mullet (ikan kedera) can hardly be found in the market.

We would suggest fishermen stop fishing during the breeding season to allow the replenishment of aquatic stock besides refraining from the use of banned fishing gear.

We urge the government to revamp the entire agricultural policy, the various relevant government agencies, the food supply chain, and the fisheries sector – which are all unsustainable.

Without a total overhaul, it is impossible to reverse the damage that has been done for close to four decades.

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