by | Norsam Tasli Mohd Razali
An Overview of Malaysian Agriculture
Malaysia has been very successful in developing the country through organized and focused economic development plans. Globally, Malaysia has been ranked sixth in 2014 on Ease of Doing Business, 20th in the Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) 2014- 2015, 33rd in the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2014 and 56th in the World Happiness Index (2013). These indicators have proven that Malaysia is capable to promote a new orientation of development focusing towards sustainability and inclusiveness.
The development of a nation relies on its citizen’s wellbeing. One of the important factors of citizen’s wellbeing is food production. Food is the backbone of the society.
Realising this, the Malaysian government has taken steps to ensure that there is enough food for its population. The emphasis is on self-sustainability. The agroecosystem management and agricultural planning has been revamped to ensure sustainability and to include green-friendly values and equitable and inclusiveness of all stake holders.
Sustainable development must be inclusive enough to cater and address the population’s wider needs for food, feed, fuel, fibre, furniture, pharmaceuticals and felicity. Constraints such as high implementation cost, and pressing health and environmental concerns require governments to plan their agriculture development towards being trim, mean, focused, not wasteful, savvy, andcompliant to the global environmental and health standards.
Agro-ecosystem Management Challenges
Malaysia is blessed with fertile soil and abundance of rain since it is located on the world tropical belt. However, to meet the agriculture development objectives Malaysia has to face and overcome social, economic and environmental challenges
Social challenge – Malaysia’s population stands at 30,061,121 and is increasing at the rate of 1.8 percent per annum. Increased population increases food demand. Malaysia has not been able to be self-reliance in terms of food supply and still has to depend on import. Current, approximately RM34.5 billion is spent on food import.
Economic challenge –Malaysia targets to be a high income nation with annual per capita income of RM48,000 by 2020. In 2013, Malaysia’s per capita income is RM33,010. The agriculture sector is seen as one of the major contributors towards achieving this target. The government has allocated RM3 billion annually in an effort to encourage the development of agribusinesses and manage the supply of agricultural commodities, besides creating job opportunities and reduces unemployment which currently stands at 3 percent. The amount allocated includes food subsidy.
Environmental challenge – Climate change is another challenge that effects agriculture development. Every year Malaysia spends an average of RM3 billion to mitigate natural disaster, particularly flood. In Peninsular Malaysia alone, 29,000 square km of land area has been identified as flood prone, affecting approximately 4.82 million peoples.
Apart from natural disaster, Malaysia is also facing shortage of land for agriculture production. Urbanisation has increased competition for land. Of the total land area of 328,550 square km only 78,700 square km is allocated for agriculture, and only 5.48 percent of which is reserved for plantation development.
National Priorities on Agro-ecosystem Management
Agriculture has been identified as one of the sectors that can contribute towards Malaysia’s development. Several initiatives to reflect to the importance of sustainable agro-ecosystem management have been included in major national programmes.
Global Science & Innovation Advisory Council (GSIAC) – GSIAC is a strategic platform that aims to bridge the gap between local and international players. One of the GSIAC initiatives is to help Asian countries achieve an environmentally-sustainable high-income economy driven by knowledge and innovation. Malaysia is using this initiative to develop its agriculture sector by focusing on high-technology; market expansion and good agriculture practices which has been identified as the three important thrusts in the effort to transform agriculture into a source of high income for the nation.
National Science and Research Council (NSRC) – NSRC is mandated to ensure Malaysia’s investment in science and technology makes the greatest possible contribution to a high-value economy through an increase in productivity, environmental quality, stimulation in R&D and enhancement of skills of the workforce. One of the main focus areas in NSRC is agriculture sciences. NSRC has tabled fifteen top national food security research priorities clustered around four themes as suggested in Global Food Security: Strategic Plan 2011-2016.
Economic Transformation Programme – The programme aims to transform the industry from small-scaled production-based operations into large-scale agribusinesses that generate sustainable economic growth. This transformation is based on an integrated and market-centric model that comprises four key themes: capitalizing on competitive advantages, tapping premium markets, aligning food security objectives with increasing GNI, and participating in the regional agricultural value chain. The transformation programmes have identified seventeen projects that cover from dietary and herbal development to transformation of “Pasar komuniti” (community market) which are believed to give high impact to Malaysia.
The Way Forward in Agro-ecosystem Management
The World Economic Forum’s new vision for agriculture establishes three goals: (i) Food security, (ii) environment sustainability, and (iii) economic opportunity; and sets specific decade-by-decade milestones for each goal. Malaysia gives full consideration on all the issues and challenges in planning its agriculture development.
(i) Food security Food security requires increased agricultural production, better food distribution, reduced food waste, improved access to and participation in the global food system by the poor, and consumer education to promote healthy food choices. The vision clearly states that the ideal of food security is to meet nutritional needs while providing affordable food choices.
Issues and challenges in Food Security Demographic – By 2050, it is estimated that 60 percent more calories are needed to feed the projected 9 billion world population. The population of Malaysia at that particular time is estimated to be 43 million. History has proven that lack of food production due to inefficiency in agriculture management caused 950 million world populations to face hunger during the food crisis of 2012.
Managing agricultural yield has been identified as one of the major constraints that need innovative approaches in order to achieve food security. Maintaining agriculture yield required the ability to overcome changing climate. Climate change can reduce agricultural yield up to 20 percent in many areas of the world, and this gives serious impact to food production.
Lack of skilled workers also affects agriculture production as it creates inefficiency in managing agriculture yield.
Managing food waste – The average food wastage in Malaysia was 450 tonnes a day in 2009. The amount increased to 15,000 tonne a day in 2013.
Food waste is a global issue. It has been estimated that 24 percent calories of food produced for people are not consumed. This type of wastage can be avoided if the management of food distribution is done in a proper and effective way.
Opportunity in Food Security
Realizing the changing trends and understanding the problems facing food security can create opportunity for better frameworks and plans.
It is estimated that almost 1 billion of the world population are depending on farming for their livelihood and source of food and nutrition. This intensifies the need for the development of the agro ecosystem by implementing new ideas for better produces, such as biotechnology in agriculture.
Malaysia has invested RM86.8 million in biotechnology to improve crop yield and increase resistance to environment stress. Malaysia’s target is to scale-up and strengthen productivity of paddy farming from 4MT/ha/season (4 metric tonne per hector per season) to 8MT/ha/season by 2020 by utilising improved mechanisation in paddy farming through biotechnology.
Technology in Food Security
Global Positioning System (GPS) – the idea of using GPS is to allow farmers to work during low visibility field conditions such as rain, dust, fog, and darkness by giving the position of the agriculture land. GPS helps in three aspects of production, namely data collection of information input through satellite data, grid soil sampling, yield monitoring and remote sensing.
Geographic Information System (GIS) – GIS enables the coupling of real-time data collection with accurate position information, leading to efficient manipulation and analysis of large amounts of geospatial data. These data assist farmers to make informed decisions and to be more efficient in agriculture activities.
Inter Cropping – Growing of two or more crops simultaneously on the same field. This approach helps to reduce both time and space utilization. However, inter cropping requires skilled labourers as it deals with two or more crops.
Hybrid seed – Hybrid seed is being introduced to increase the efficiency and optimizing productivity of plant, as well as to ensure the sustainability of plant production and to create friendly environment.
(ii) Environment sustainability
Globally, agriculture contributes 17-30 percent to Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. To lessen the agricultural impact on environment, steps are taken to grow quality and quantity of natural resources that could reduce emissions per tonne of production and optimize overall water usage.
Issues and challenges in environment sustainability
Green House Gas – Agriculture production, especially meat produce, causes greenhouse gas impact on the environment. Research has concluded that if current trends continue, food production alone will reach, if not exceed, the global expectation for total GHG emissions in 2050. As the world’s population increases and diet preference shifts towards meat-heavy, particularly in western diet, the effect of greenhouse gas emissions could accelerate faster than expected to harm the environment and human.
Resource utilization – it is estimated that cropland will expend by 42 percent by 2050. However, the expansion would not bring any benefit if not effectively utilised and managed. Currently, it has been identified that 198 million hectare of land – about the size of Mexico – is used to produce food that are not being consumed.
Resources management is not only about effective utilisation, but includes the management of activities to avoid harming the environment. For example, efficient usage of water in farming, and the usage of fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide that improves agriculture production but does not pollute the environment.
Opportunity in Environment Sustainability
High awareness in green agriculture or environmental friendly approach in agriculture activities is the best way to keep the environment clean and sustainable. Adopting green technology in agriculture would create sustainable agriculture practices and promote agro-ecology and sustainable ecosystems. The effort to raise public awareness on sustainability, and public participation in activities such as food health literacy, green life style and waste to wealth, could contribute to achieving environment sustainability.
Technology in Environment Sustainability
Vertical farming – Vertical farming is cultivating plant or animal life within a skyscraper greenhouse or on vertically inclined surfaces. Advantages for vertical farming include no weather-related crop failures due to droughts, floods, pests and all vertical farming food are grown organically with no herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers.
Integrated farming and waste management to reduce erosion, increase crop yields, nutrient recycling, strengthen environmental sustainability. An integrated farming system consists of a range of resource-saving practices that aims to achieve acceptable high profits and sustained production levels, while minimizing the negative effects of intensive farming and preserving the environment.
Aquaculture: Aquaponic is a sustainable food production system that combines conventional aquaculture with modern methods of raising aquatic animals such as fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks. In aquaculture, effluents accumulate in the water, increasing toxicity for the fish. This water is led to a hydroponic system where the by-products from the aquaculture are broken down by nitrogen-fixing bacteria, then filtered out by the plants as nutrients, after which the cleaned water is recirculated back to the animals
Smart Sprinkler and Drip Irrigation System – Smart sprinkler and drip irrigation system is an approach to reduce production cost as smart systems use water only when needed. The system also save production time as the irrigation installer has programmed the site data into the smart system, where the controller adjusts the watering schedule based upon local conditions and/or soil moisture and by zone.
(iii) Economic opportunity
Agro ecosystem management could lead to better economy for the nation. This could be achieved through investment to reduce poverty and improve production and efficiency. Growth of commercial agriculture could deliver approximately 40 – 50 percent of needed productivity increases, contribute to economic activity, and scale up sustainable practices. But foreign investments, if there is a need for them, must be balanced against fear of land grabs and concerns about the safety of new technologies.
Issues and challenges in economy
Agriculture sector contribution to Malaysia GDP has shown declining trends since 1970 to 2010, from 28.8 to 7.3 percent, respectively. However this phenomenon is normal in the cycle of development. The main contribution towards this trend is the lack of employment in the agriculture sector. This condition is being experienced globally where employment in the agriculture stands at only 37.3 percent of total employment. As for Malaysia, only 13.3 percent of total employment is in agriculture, forestry and fishing. Lack of involvement of youth is one of the reasons for the lack of labour in this sector. Youth are not interested to make agriculture as their career due to “poor man’s sector” mindset. This leads to the increased of foreign workers in the country.
Opportunity in Economy
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development estimates the potential additional sustainability-related business opportunities will generate annual value of USD1.2 trillion from agriculture and food sector by 2050.
Youth participation is crucial for the development of the agriculture sector. Opportunity to attract youth should be intensified as current statistic has shown increased interest – 15 percent of 826,000 agripreneurs are youth. The government has to create infrastructure and support system to encourage this development. For example, the establishment of Halal Hub to promote and produce halal food and standardization like MyGAP that helps to bring the agriculture produce into the more lucrative markets. Besides, there are a lot of future opportunities in agriculture across other sectors that could be explored, such as Agriculture cities and integration, and agriculture related industries such as tourism, education and construction.
Technology in Economy
Although agricultural contribution to GDP declined over the years to 7.3 percent in 2010, current trends, technology and new initiative in this sector could provide opportunity for Malaysia’s economy. Opportunities from technology such as energy efficiency, low-emission energy supply, precision farming, and robotics and automation are a few examples to generate economic opportunity to Malaysia.
Energy Efficiency – Energy inputs in agriculture sector are found in every stage of production – from applying chemicals (e.g. pesticides, fertilizers), to fuel tractors that harvest crops, to supplying electricity for animal housing facilities. Inefficiency in using these energy inputs would lead farmers to bear the high energy costs. Inefficiency would also create volatile energy market fluctuations that impact fertilizer costs.
Low-Emission Energy Supply – Technology that helps reduce the impact on environment by shifting energy supply from fossil fuels to less polluting alternatives such as solar, wind, nuclear and hydropower for electricity generation or using biofuel as direct sources of energy.
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