Hunger may stalk the land

Malaysia’s heavy reliance on food imports will see many of its citizens starve when the global economy goes bust, a food expert warned.

“We can’t suddenly increase our agricultural production. It’s a 10-year programme to make ourselves self-sufficient, even if they did everything the scientists wanted. It’s not like manufacturing. You can’t knock out food like you can knock out cars.”

Patrick Lee, Free Malaysia Today

Millions of Malaysians will starve when the global economy crumbles, a food expert warned.

Former Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) professor Mohd Peter Davis said that imported food – something Malaysia is heavily reliant on – would not come when the world is hit by a massive economic crisis.

“The whole world economy right now is on the brink of collapse, particularly the European Union and US. They (food-producing countries) will be desperate to feed their own citizens, so we can’t rely on anyone to feed us in the collapse of an economy.”

“We only produce enough food to feed at most half the population, with our resources… and we’re not keeping up with the population increase,” he told FMT in an interview.

Mohd Peter was referring to Malaysia’s worsening food self-sufficiency levels amidst fears of an impending global economic crisis.

According to the World Bank’s Malaysia Economic Monitor (Smart Cities) report, the country’s self-sufficiency in rice shrunk to 62 percent in 2007 from 71 percent in 1970.

The report also noted the country’s worrying decline in meat production as well as the growing of fruits and vegetables. In fact, it added: “At the product level, most basic food items except eggs increasingly rely on imports.”

According to a 2010 Malaysian Insider report, Malaysia produced only 25 percent of its local beef consumption and five percent of its domestic milk supply.

Problem not visible

Mohd Peter, however, said the problem was not readily visible, especially with the seemingly large supply of food for Malaysia’s 28.3 million people.

“The problem is not visible, because we’ve got more food than ever before… So it’s not on the people’s mind. We have a tremendous variety (of food), and it keeps getting better every year.”

“But what people don’t realise is that nearly all of this food comes from imports,” he said, citing rice-producing countries such as Vietnam and Thailand as examples.

Even worse, Mohd Peter warned, was the threat of war in the event of an economic meltdown.

The food expert used the Japanese Occupation of Malaya during the Second World War, and the allied forces’ naval blockade as an example.

According to Jim Baker’s “Crossroads” (A Popular History of Malaysia & Singapore), Malaya had “imported half the food it consumed” prior to the war.

“Japanese inability to keep the sea lanes open made many imports inaccessible,” it read, adding that urban Malayans were hit hardest by the food shortages.

Relying on local livestock was not going to help either, the former UPM professor said. He claimed that much, if not most animal feed, was imported.