Smart farming, youth are key to food sustainability

By Dr. Devika Nadarajah8 July 2020 Malaysia

Countries around the world strive for socioeconomic prosperity — Malaysia is no exception. With the end of the year 2020, Malaysia bids a nostalgic goodbye to its Vision 2020 and the 11th Malaysia Plan (2016–2020).

The government, through its Economic Planning Unit, is now crafting the 12th Malaysia Plan (2021–2025) with a national agenda of inclusivity and meaningful socioeconomic development for a prosperous society.

Whether we eat to live or live to eat, food is an essential that we cannot live without. The Covid-19 pandemic is a rude reminder that Malaysia should prioritise food security and sustainability for its people.

Currently, Malaysia is not self-sufficient with respect to food staples like rice, vegetables, and fruits. At 25 per cent, we suffer a considerable food supply gap that has major repercussions for both the economy and society. Food should thus be acknowledged as a key agenda in the 12th Malaysia Plan by addressing five main areas of food sustainability.

The first and foremost efforts should be in the area of food supply, whereby the reliance on imports for staple foods must be reduced. The second area relates to reducing food loss and wastage from farm to table. Post-harvest food waste is recorded at 20 to 30 per cent in developing countries.

About one-third of produced food is abandoned or wasted yearly, while two-thirds of waste occurs in the supply chain during harvesting, shipping, and storage. To minimise wastage, countries that have been successful on this path can be emulated, such as Japan, South Korea, China and India.

The third area to focus on is smart farming, which is rapidly becoming the future of agriculture. The food supply chain can be improved by introducing enabling technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT) or traceability systems, that have the potential to increase food safety and production transparency.

Food should thus be acknowledged as a key agenda in the 12th Malaysia Plan by addressing five main areas of food sustainability. - NSTP file pic

Food contaminated with toxic chemicals afflicts people with chronic diseases, causing public health budgets to escalate. Malaysia can sever the link between toxic food, chronic illness and public health costs by implementing concerted action on smart farming.

Policies promoting smart farming should also go beyond traditional views of smart technologies as tools that increase farm efficiency. Instead, attention should be brought to smart farming's compatibility with different 'agricultures' and its capability to transform farming systems.

The fourth area for improvement is youth involvement in agriculture. Over the past decades, many smallholders have abandoned their land, and village youth migrated to the city for jobs. However, given their technological savoir-faire, smart farming is best done with the inclusion of youth.

A shift in mindset must thus be embraced by the younger generation, assuring them that agriculture holds a promising future. Towards this end, the government should promote and provide knowledge sharing, training, support, and grants for young agricultural entrepreneurs, which will create a strong ecosystem of agriculture, youth, technology and innovation.

The fifth and final area involves biomass as a source of renewable energy. Biomass has long been identified as a sustainable source of renewable energy, particularly in countries with abundant agricultural activity. Being a major agricultural commodity producer, Malaysia is well positioned among Asean countries to champion the use of biomass.

Malaysia is, in fact, gifted with both conventional energy resources as well as renewable sources like hydro, biomass and solar energy. Specifically in terms of biomass resources, Malaysia has substantial agricultural biomass and wood waste resources available for exploitation.

Therefore, the intensive use of biomass as renewable energy in Malaysia will potentially reduce dependency on fossil fuels, consequently decreasing net carbon dioxide emissions as well as lessening the greenhouse effect.

By addressing and improving food sustainability in these five areas, the 12th Malaysia Plan will ensure Malaysia's citizens are well served by modern, safe and sustainable food and agricultural practices.