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10 Facts You Need To Know About Food Security In Malaysia

Though Malaysia seems to have plenty of food for everyone, the reality is not that simple, and we are very much in danger of a food security crisis in the future. Here are 10 facts you need to know about the food security situation in Malaysia.

#1: What is Food Security?

Food security, in simple terms, is about having access to a reliable supply of nutritious food to provide a healthy and well-balanced diet. The primary aspects are availability (supply and quantity), access (whether you can afford or reach the food), utilisation (whether the food provides the required nutrition for a healthy lifestyle) and stability (having secure access to a reliable food supply)[1].

#2: Food Security in Malaysia

Unfortunately, Malaysia is not currently a food-secure nation. According to Urban Hijau, Malaysian households spend nearly 70% of their budgets on food. And a 2019 household expenditure report by the Department of Statistics shows that food and non-alcoholic beverages made up the highest expenditure group (24.4%, approximately RM763 per household) in rural households.

#3: We are an import heavy country

Source: Malay Mail

A sizable percentage of Malaysia’s food supply comes from imports. For example, we only produce enough rice to meet 70% of the nation’s requirements[2]. This leaves the remaining 30% to be filled in by imports[3]. Urban Hijau states that Malaysia’s reliance on food imports to meet domestic needs puts it in a very precarious position as disruptions in food supply chains from neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Indonesia can potentially lead to high food price spikes in the future.

#4: We are eating more than we can make

The average Malaysian citizen consumes an average of 82.3kg of rice per year[4] and in 2022, the per capita consumption of rice in Malaysia or the average amount consumed per person was 77 kilograms[5]. Such is rice’s importance to our diets that we end up consuming more than our country is able to produce. Based on the latest statistics released by the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM) on September 7th 2023, Malaysia has a self-sufficiency ratio of only 62.6% for rice in 2022 which means it still has to rely on other countries to fulfil local demand[5].

#5: The B40 has less access to fresh fruits and vegetables

Accessibility is a major problem that the Bottom 40% (B40) face on a daily basis; this is especially true for the Urban B40 as many of them live in areas where fruits and vegetables are too expensive for them[3]. Thus, they largely rely on stores that offer low prices and bulk purchases or donations for their food supply, most of which contain starches (e.g. rice), cooking oils, processed and ultra-processed foods (e.g. instant noodles, fast food, packaged bread, soft drinks etc.) or canned foods (e.g. sardines, luncheon meat, salted vegetables etc.).

Adding to the problem is that when they find themselves strapped for cash, B40 households will drop fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables from their expenditures and replace them with cheaper substitutes such as canned foods to fill their stomachs quickly while also sustaining them through the price hikes[6].

#6: Price inflation is making things more expensive for B40

Source: The Star

The primary issue that is preventing the B40 from affording essential meals is the recent price hikes. According to Academy of Sciences Malaysia fellow Datuk Dr Madeline Berma[7], B40 families spend more than 40% of their income on food (with transportation being the second highest expenditure). As you can imagine, the price inflation has badly affected many B40 households, and even NGOs providing food aid to the affected group are also struggling with affording enough food to provide for breakfast, lunch and dinner[8].

#7: The B40 consumes more processed foods

The inability to access healthy foodstuffs means that B40 households rely on cheap, filling and long-lasting processed and ultra-processed foods for their food supply. Such foods are also high-calorie and lacking in vital nutrients, and overconsumption of them will lead to obesity, wasting or stunting[9], which in turn will increase the risk of suffering from non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases later in life[10].

#8: Chicken prices rising due to the Russia-Ukraine War

According to a nationwide Bernama survey Malaysia maintains an adequate supply of chicken[11] (our self-sufficiency ratio (SSR) was 114.4% in 2021), and most of the chicken it produces is for domestic consumption (94%, with the remaining 6% for export[12]), its chicken prices still increased in early 2022, and in June, they rose to 17.2%[13] compared with an increase of 13.4 % in May 2022. This price increase is seen as a consequence of the Russia-Ukraine War; Russia is the world’s biggest exporter of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) fertilisers[14], but its war with Ukraine has disrupted shipping and driven up prices of natural gas, a key ingredient of fertiliser manufacturing. Because of this, fertiliser prices went up and that, in turn, created a cascade effect with soybean and corn[15] becoming more expensive as well, followed by chicken feed and then chicken itself.

As of September 2023, the retail price for chicken meat is currently between RM10.25 and RM10.25 per kilogram or between RM4.65 and RM4.65 per pound (lb) in Kuala Lumpur and George Town[16].

#9: Climate Change is affecting rice farmers in Kedah

Climate change is one of the primary contributors to food insecurity in Malaysia, due to its effects on agriculture and food supply chains via changing weather patterns. Rice farmers in Kedah have been feeling the worst of these effects. Dryer seasons are leading to droughts, making it more difficult to grow rice plants[17]. And rising temperatures will also lead to greater sea ice melt, causing sea levels to rise and potentially flooding much of Kedah’s agricultural land.

#10: Climate Change is also affecting artisanal fishermen

Source: ISEAS

Artisanal (or small-scale, subsistence-based) fishermen are also adversely affected by climate change. Climate change can severely affect ocean ecosystems through coral bleaching[18], ocean acidification, nutrient upwelling and changing weather patterns. And that in turn will affect the populations of commercially important marine species. Artisanal fisherfolk only make up a good 65% of all Malaysian fishermen[19] but are also the ones most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Increasingly erratic weather patterns prevent small-scale fisheries from going too far out at sea but depleting coastal fish populations also means that they are often forced to go into deeper water just to make a catch[20].

Explore our sources:

  1. AIFSRC. Food security and why it matters. Link.
  2. T. Nair. (2022). A Closer Look: Food Security. FMT. Link.
  3. The Star. (2022). Agriculture Ministry: Malaysia’s rice supply stable. Link.
  4. A.M. Zulkifli. (2021). Farmers struggle in the ‘rice bowl of Malaysia’. Malaysia Now. Link.
  5. I. Lim. (2023). Mydin says facing local rice supply shortage, fends off customers’ accusations of hiding stock. Malay Mail. Link.
  6. S. Chua. (2021). Daily meals a struggle for B40 families after job loss, pay cuts. FMT. Link.
  7. W. Li Za. (2022). Rising food costs: Equip and empower B40 group, say Malaysian experts. The Star. Link.
  8. M. Hassandarvish. (2022). Rising prices, fewer donations: Malaysian NGOs giving food aid feel the pinch following price hikes. Malay Mail. Link.
  9. Bernama. (2022). 1 in 5 Malaysian children stunted – why it’s a cause for concern. The Daily Express. Link.
  10. CodeBlue. (2022). Does Consuming Ultra-Processed Food Increase Your Risk Of Obesity, Diabetes And Cancer? Link.
  11. Bernama. (2023). Survey: Supply of raw chicken in Malaysia adequate, rising price due to higher demand. Malay Mail. Link.
  12. Bernama. (2022). Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industries: Malaysia has not reached food crisis level. Malay Mail. Link.
  13. S. Khalid. (2022). Food price rise pushed Malaysia’s inflation to 3.4% in June — DOSM. The Edge. Link.
  14. P. Subramaniam. (2022). Food: Imperative to ensure self-sufficiency in food supply. The Edge. Link.
  15. T. Nair. (2022). Explained: Rising food prices. FMT. Link.
  16. Selina Wamuchii. Link.
  17. S. Jusop. (2020). Climate change threatens our food security. New Straits Times. Link.
  18. Macaranga. (2022). NOW OR NEVER FOR MALAYSIAN CORAL REEFS. Link.
  19. S. Rahman. (2022). The Endangered Malaysian Artisanal Fisherman: Battered by Climate Change and Covid-19. ISEAS.  Link.
  20. A. Shah & J. Goh. (2021). Malaysia’s coastal fisher folk are losing their livelihoods as fish stocks decline. The Star. Link.

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