Monday, August 7, 2017
HAVE FOOD, HAVE POWER (Part 4)
"HAVE FOOD, HAVE POWER" it is clear when he starts talking about the subject that it is a topic close to the heart of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek. Without a doubt, “food sovereignty” is not just a buzzword for the 57-year-old politician who has been overseeing the country’s agricultural affairs for over a year now. Even after a long, hot, afternoon ploughing through the new maize (corn) farm in Kampung Dadong, near Kemaman, Terengganu, Ahmad Shabery is indefatigable as he shares his aspiration to make the country self-sustainable in its agro-food production, and more. Food sovereignty, or the rights of a nation to produce its own food and not depend on imported food supplies to feed its population, is an important policy for Malaysia to adopt, he stresses. “Our country is currently importing more food than it is producing and exporting, which puts us at the mercy of foreign countries,” he says, referring to Malaysia’s food import bill last year, which was reported at RM45.39bil. Our food export amounted to only RM27bil, leaving us with a deficit of over RM18bil. It is a heavy economic burden, and that is why the Government has been aiming at self-sufficiency for some time, he adds. Once we achieve self-sustainability in our food production, it could eventually lead to food sovereignty.
9. Can we have food sovereignty with the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and Asean Economic Community?
We have no choice, even without them, we will have other trade agreements and partnerships that we have to open up to. TPPA will force us to be more competitive. For instance, countries with the lowest costs of poultry farming are the US and Brazil because they grow their own feed and have a lot of mechanisation. The prices of their chicken is therefore low. So under TPPA, it will be difficult for us to stop them from entering our market. But that doesn’t mean we should just accept it. We have to improve our own capabilities to compete with them. We also need to look at it as an opportunity to bargain and market our own products - we have other agro-products that are cheaper than theirs.
10. Climate experts forecast that we will experience La Nina later in the year. Are our farmers prepared?
We cannot stop our agricultural activities because of the weather. In fact, the weather is part of the risk in agriculture. We need to mitigate it. We are also looking at crop insurance to protect farmers from risks linked to climate change such as drought, diseases and floods. In its first phase, the crop insurance will cover only padi. Later, it will include other agriculture activities such as livestock, agrofood commodities such as fruits and vegetables as well as the fisheries sector. The insurance will make the agriculture sector more attractive to investors, while giving farmers a peace of mind.
11. What about climate change? What are the ministry’s plans in facing climate change?
Again, we cannot stop the extreme weather, but there are cycles - like El Nino and La Nina - so we are looking at how we can deal with each cycle to mitigate the impact on our food crops, livestock and fish. The National Agro-Food policy has also taken into account the effects of climate change. We also need our researches and experts to come up with new solutions to the challenges that we will face in agriculture due to climate change as well as look at ways to improve our food production. For instance, they can look at how we can develop new variety of seeds and plants that can make our crops more able to weather the changes in our climate. We are lucky, though, that our weather is not as extreme as other countries - we don’t get hurricanes or cyclones as the ones in China or Taiwan. Thanks..
Original info from local newspaper and published.
Kg Dadong, Kemaman,
(Attended the official grain corn planting by Minister)