We don’t need a war to show the precariousness of our food supply chain. The Coronavirus pandemic is threatening our food supply, and the rakyat will soon experience real hardship, if the problems are not addressed.
For decades, ministers and politicians placed little importance on making Malaysia self-sufficient in food. There was little emphasis on agriculture.
Check your supermarket or pasar grocery stall. Ask the stall holder, where your potatoes come from. Onions? Garlic? Ginger? Avocado? Mango? Why are we not growing these everyday items? What is the Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority’s (FAMA) advice to farmers to grow these crops? Ministry of Education should market agricultural courses. Ministry of Health should encourage the consumption of nutritious locally grown food.
Last week, photos of vegetables and fish being dumped have upset many Malaysians. To make matters worse, they are also furious that eight tonnes of food, albeit canned supplies, will be shipped to the United Arab Emirates, in exchange for Coronavirus test kits. One wonders if something other than food, could have been used in the exchange. After all, charity begins at home.
Why have we no food security?
When government-linked companies (GLCs) took over British rubber estates, they converted land into housing developments, golf courses and oil palm plantations. The Indians who lived in the estates were displaced and had nowhere to go.
The seventies and eighties was marked by industrialisation and manufacturing. As a result, the nation had no food security and we relied heavily on food imports.
Calls by various individuals, NGOs and experts were largely ignored. Instead of thinking long term, short term profits were looked upon favourably.
Buoyed by the world’s then increasing demand for palm oil, the jungle was cleared to make way for the large scale plantation of palm oil. The felled timber was sold for profit.
You can see the effects of this in your own state, but it is most striking in Sarawak.
Trees that were hundreds of years old, were cut to make cronies and the politicians they worship, richer.
Many species of flora and fauna were destroyed. Who knows, there could have been a cure for the many illnesses in our modern world, that was hidden away in one of the species that was destroyed?
When the land was cleared of all vegetation, the next step was to plant the area with only one crop. Oil Palm. This monoculture is not advisable. We need plant diversity. A fungus or plant disease may wreak havoc and destroy the whole plantation.
Cleared land to make way for the cultivation of oil palm means that the rich diversity of the jungles is lost. Animals, such as wild boar, deer, orang utan and mousedeer, need certain crops/fruits to thrive on. They will migrate into the interior where the jungle is relatively untouched (for now).
The plants which provide sustenance and a means of living for the Ibans or other indigneous population are destroyed, so what can they feed their families?
When the animals which they hunt are no longer in the area, how are they to provide their families with a good and cheap source of protein?
You and I get our protein from the supermarket, the indigenous folk hunt or fish.
The reality is that when crony companies are given large tracts of land by the politician friends, they cut the timber, and then plant oil palm, the Ibans and other indienuous people are forced to leave the area. They are resettled into camps, with poor soil and they cannot plant their padi and the other crops which they cultivate for food and for bartering.
As there is no jungle nearby to hunt or river to fish, many starve or are malnourished.
The timber and oil palm companies bring their pollution with them. The chemicals they use, will ultimately get into the soil and contaminate it. The run-off into rivers and streams will cause waterways to go muddy or they are polluted with contaminants.
Fish die. People who swim in the water will develop rashes and other skin diseases. No one will dare to drink from this contaminated water supply. They can fall seriously ill.
Why did all this happen?
It happened because there is money to be made from cash crops like oil palm. Look at how the timber barons and oil palm multi-millionaires live. They made money off the poor people and their ancestral lands.
For decades, the government placed so much reliance on cash crops, that experts were worried that the country would not have food security, and possible famine, because of an inability to feed the nation. Drought or prolonged periods of rain, could kill our crops.
When the worst of the Coronavirus threat is over, the agricultural minister and the prime minister should encourage more young adults to venture into farming and cultivate the land for food items instead of cash crops like palm oil.