NEWS

Fight the food security battle, keep the supply chain open

COMMENT | With the announcement of extending the movement control order to April 14, the nation and the government must do everything it can to ensure that the supply chains are open and intact, especially in terms of food. Malaysians must not be allowed to starve during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Food riots are something we have never seen in our lives but could happen if we don’t keep the supply chains open and if we don’t have a clear idea about keeping agricultural production.

The Pakatan Harapan secretariat calls on the government to take swift measures to resolve the supply chain breakdown in the following areas:

1. food, vegetable and agricultural production;

2. global medical-use glove manufacturing;

3. five essential medical items: masks, testing kits, sanitisers, personal protective equipment, ventilators;

4. online/e-commerce platforms;

5. logistics


1) On food, vegetable, fish and agricultural production

Food security is the biggest challenge faced by many Malaysian households, in particular those whose income was affected after the movement control order (MCO) was imposed.

In Cameron Highlands, farmers were throwing away vegetables because lorries were unable and unwilling to travel up to bring the vegetables down due to the lockdown by the security forces. The same thing happened to fishermen. They dumped their fish into the sea because they were unable to send fish to the market in big cities.

Meanwhile in Kuala Lumpur, people were queuing up to grab groceries resulting in a crowd which risked further viral spread and defeated the purpose of MCO. Some traders also took advantage to raise prices.

To ensure food security, the government should impose a “Guaranteed Buy Back Scheme” through FAMA and LKIM during the MCO period. This is to ensure that markets are still functional for the farmers to continue planting for next season and fishermen to continue to go to the sea. If they suffer losses now, they will reduce planting in the next season and Malaysia’s food security will be affected when the market gets back to normal.

The government must understand that no farmers means no food

Malaysia is a net food importer, with a quarter of food supplies imported. Currently, Bernas imports about 600,000 tonnes to 650,000 tonnes of white rice per year; the stockpile stands at 150,000 tonnes per year.

With this crisis threatening almost every country in the world, it is important that we make sure we are self-sufficient by boosting our domestic production capability for essential food items.

2) On global medical-use glove manufacturing

Malaysia is home to the world’s biggest maker of medical gloves by volume, but a supplier shutdown means that the company which had a capacity to make 200 million gloves a day, is only able to produce two weeks’ supply at the same time.

Due to MCO restrictions, glove makers were only allowed to work at 50 percent capacity. A lack of raw materials and restriction on workers means that factories can’t produce enough essential goods. Elsewhere, we’ve seen reports of doctors and nurses in remote areas resorting to using garbage bags as makeshift PPEs as they were temporarily cut off from the supplies.

3) On medical essentials

The demand for the five essential medical items - masks, testing kits, sanitisers, PPEs and ventilators - will only increase as the epidemic continues. We must take a “wartime production” approach by allowing existing suppliers to expand their production capacity, including the sourcing of materials and workers, and also redirect some of the non-essential manufacturers to produce these goods.

4) Online/e-commerce platforms

As we go into longer-term partial lockdown, it is important to realise that beyond basic food and medical essentials, Malaysians may need other products to keep life going. It is important that the government looks into online e-commerce platforms in a holistic manner which includes looking at logistics, warehouse fulfilment, and call centres.

5) Logistics

The key enabler to solve these issues is to look at how to ensure that the logistics sectors are kept open and moving while the highest level of health compliance is observed.

Conclusion

The cabinet and National Security Council would have to coordinate with all other agencies to ensure that the security forces, the economic agencies, and the health officials are on the same page.

To win the war against Covid-19 is not only about preventing the virus from spreading by keeping people apart, but also about providing enough supplies to Malaysians from all backgrounds so that they may survive through this extended MCO period.

The Pakatan Harapan secretariat calls on the government to take immediate actions to ensure sufficient food and medical supplies, and to smooth out the logistics to ensure that there are no supply chain breakdowns so that the goods can reach the public and those in need. 


SAIFUDDIN NASUTION is former minister of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs and the secretary-general of PKR;

SALAHUDDIN AYUB is former minister of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry and the deputy president of Amanah;

ONG KIAN MING is former deputy minister of International Trade and Industry and the political education assistant director of DAP.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.


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