Nasi dah jadi bubur: Where did we go wrong?

Let's tap our traditional strengths to build a vibrant economy while boosting the nation's food security

Rising food prices; Focus on the issues that matter - ANIL NETTO

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Today, food is the biggest piston of trade. 

According to a World Bank report, “Agricultural development is one of the most powerful tools to end extreme poverty, boost shared prosperity, and feed a projected 10 billion people by 2050. Growth in the agriculture sector is two to four times more effective in raising incomes among the poorest compared to other sectors.” 

Its October 2023 report stated: “In 48 countries, 238 million people are facing high levels of acute food insecurity – 10% more than in 2022.” 

The role of smallholders remains a fulcrum for food production. Smallholders (usually defined as having less than two hectares of land) reportedly produce 70-80% of the world’s food. They even produce more food crops than larger farms (Horrigan et al, 2002, Naylor et al, 2005). 

The year 2014 was declared the International Year of the Family Farm, with the UN and other food security agencies reiterating arguments to boost support for family farmers, who are mainly smallholders (Food and Agriculture Organization, 2014). 

Now let us walk down the past six decades of Malaysia’s pursuit of development. 

Have the mostly Umno-led governments not forsaken agriculture and animal husbandry in the name of bringing progress to the nation? 

Malaysia, endowed with nature’s blessings, has failed to harness its rich variety of crops, including vegetables and fruits. From pucuk paku (fiddleheads) to petai (stink beans), from a variety of native fruits like langsat (lansones), duku, soursops and mangosteens, our land was teeming with crops. 

Once upon a time, these abundant crops could be found right here in Sentul Pasar in Kuala Lumpur.

But then, we abandoned humble cattle and goat herds and used vast tracts of land to build factories. Today, not a few factories are on the brink of closing down. Meanwhile, ministers are desperately trying to draw in fresh investments. 

Imagine, coconuts, sugarcane and tapioca have powered the economies of several nations, earning decent revenue and providing jobs for millions of people.

But we flattened many smallholders’ farms to build mega-structures, mega-malls and business centres. Today, some of these buildings are half-empty, several even dilapidated.

We took the route of industrialisation and thought our car and motorbike manufacturers would enjoy economies of scale and dominate the world market. Did they?

Today, our leaders are begging investors to come and give us jobs. 

If only we had been humbler in our pursuits and harnessed Malaysia’s natural resources and focused on the power of smallholders. But we did not! 

If only we had seen the future way back in the early 1970s and protected our farming and animal husbandry sectors. If only we had empowered the smallholders’ families with proper infrastructure and support. But we had other plans.

We chose to go big, clearing pristine rainforests and planting mega-oil palm plantations. Soon, we found ourselves heavily reliant on migrant workers to prop up the new sectors.

Today, as the world grapples with geopolitical challenges and global food security issues, Malaysia could have been an oasis of hope, while sharing its prosperity with its own people. 

Our smallholders could have provided incomes for their next generation. Our forests could have served as a magnet for wildlife adventures and ecotourism. 

We might not have produced a New York or a London, but we could have been a pivotal food basin in a world grappling with food security.

With modern advances in medicine rediscovering the powers of native plants and fruits, Malaysia could have been a prime supplier too. 

But alas, we plunged into Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s modernisation route in search of a dream Malaysia. Too late did we discover that his vision of a rich, heavily industrialised nation was a mirage, an illusion. 

The nation lost the strengths that its independent smallholders once had. We nudged out traditional animal husbandry, including cattle and goat farming. Why, it is even hard to find real kampong or free-range chicken today!

Meanwhile, we sent our kids to universities selling science and business studies that could not transform the nation into another Japan, China or Germany.

Is it too late to revamp our national goals and redraw the future economic map of Malaysia? 

Let’s have a healthy discourse. Let’s tap our traditional strengths to build a vibrant economy while boosting the nation’s food security.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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21 Apr 2024 9.49pm

One of the problems is the monopoly on food given to certain people in this country. This is the main hindrance to improving the agricultural sector. If agriculture is big locally, it will be hard for these people to monopolise the industry. Importing food is the easiest way to control the market. As for Tun M’s tenure, i would think that the emphasis on modernisation was a necessity of that time, although i will agree this resulted in the neglect of the agriculture sector. Blaming the past means we are currently not focusing on the issues at hand. A mere political instrument
21 Apr 2024 2.31pm

Wish this write-up was done 2 decades ago and Bersih all out to fight for Reformasi Food Security but not just to topple a govt. Anywhere there is hope if big plantation is directed to give away 10% of OP of their planted area for specific food production. Planted Oil plam is 5mil ha, 10% is 500k for food production is more than enough. Lets guling² to demand this.

Paul Lim
Paul Lim
21 Apr 2024 12.53am

Malaysia could learn also from some African countries on food security.

17 Apr 2024 9.47am

Always playing the blame game. I am sure you also benefitted something in tun’s time as PM. Didn’t make noise, though, that time. I am not a fan of tun M. Heck, I was a reformasi supporter. Everybody knew he was cor….
You can’t deny, though, our country was at its best during his time. After tun, our country started spiralling downwards. Its becoming even worse in the madani govt. AI has achieved his lifelong dream of becoming PM. And that’s all we get, people!!! Hahaha….
By the way, if this new govt is so clever, go la do something to make our country even better than tun’s time.

buah kerdas
buah kerdas
19 Apr 2024 10.29pm
Reply to  Suri

Salah atau benar, sekurang-kurangnya Mahathir telah sedaya upaya cuba merealisasikan impiannya untuk menjadikan negara ini negara maju berpendapatan tinggi berasaskan industri. Dia mungkin dipengaruhi oleh kejayaan Jepun dan Korea Selatan; maka dibangunkan nya industri berat termasuk industri keluli. Namun semasa pembinaan Menara Berkembar Petronas Mahathir telah nampak bahawa rakyat Malaysia kurang berminat untuk belajar menguasai kerja-kerja berat berskala mega. Mahathir pernah meluahkan perkara tersebut tapi saya tak ingat persis bila itu berlaku. Sumber daya manusia kita belum bersedia untuk menjadikan negara ini sebuah negara industri termaju, maka tak heranlah jika hingga sekarang kita masih lagi mengharapkan kemasukan FDI dengan harapan akan ada pemindahan teknologi. Kalau dalam bisnes saham ada frasa “There is no such thing as free lunch’ maka samalah halnya dengan technology transfer terlebih-lebih yang niche dan state-of-the-art. Kita ditempat kedua sebagai pengeluar minyak sawit dunia tapi industri oleo-chemical berasaskan sawit milik kita masih jauh dari memadai. Hari ini Malaysia antara negara pengeksport produk elektronik terbesar dunia, namun kedudukan itu akan luput apabila syarikat gergasi elektronik dunia angkat kaki dari Malaysia menuju ke negara membangun lain seperti Thailand, Vietnam dan beberapa negara Afrika. Tanpa dasar… Read more »

Walter Gomez
Walter Gomez
17 Apr 2024 6.53am

Great analysis, well-written. Well done!

16 Apr 2024 9.13pm

Good job writing this up. I actually don’t know if we can reset, we have lost so much and still business as usual is widely practice. I really think that we don’t have a clue, we have poor leadership!

Mohd Nasir Bin Tajudin
Mohd Nasir Bin Tajudin
18 Apr 2024 12.57am
Reply to  Faisal

In good or bad times there are certainly some positives to look forward to. Not to mention improve efficiency to the standards of farming. There are myriad agriculture opportunities to explore if Malaysia keep an open mind. Make sure we know what we really want to do and do it. Remove guilt from the equation and just move forward.