Food for the na­tion

Lo­cal univer­sity uPM forges ahead in en­sur­ing there is enough good food for ev­ery­one.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - INSIGHT -

THE right to food is a ba­sic tenet of a food se­cu­rity pol­icy of any na­tion. The World Food Sum­mit (1996)’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion states that food se­cu­rity ex­ists when all peo­ple, at all times, have phys­i­cal and eco­nomic ac­cess to suf­fi­cient, safe and nu­tri­tious food that meets their di­etary needs and food pref­er­ences for an ac­tive and healthy life­style (Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion of the United Na­tions, 2003). Four com­po­nents come into play, in­clud­ing

of suf­fi­cient quan­ti­ties of food of ap­pro­pri­ate qual­ity, sup­plied through do­mes­tic pro­duc­tion or im­ports; by house­holds and in­di­vid­u­als to ad­e­quate re­sources to ac­quire ap­pro­pri­ate foods for a nu­tri­tious diet; of food through ad­e­quate diet, wa­ter, san­i­ta­tion and health care; and

in avail­abil­ity and ac­ces­si­bil­ity.




ac­cess Is food se­cu­rity im­por­tant to Malaysia?

The im­por­tance of food se­cu­rity in Malaysia can be viewed from both the per­spec­tives of sup­ply and de­mand. When look­ing at sup­ply, we have the agri­cul­ture sec­tor, which can be fur­ther cat­e­gorised into in­dus­trial crops and food.

In gen­eral, in­dus­trial crops – such as palm oil – have de­vel­oped into a com­pet­i­tive and ef­fi­cient sub­sec­tor that con­trib­utes sig­nif­i­cantly to na­tional de­vel­op­ment and the ex­port in­dus­try.

How­ever, the food sub­sec­tor that con­sists of food crops, live­stock and fish­eries has not been able to per­form as well.

Malaysia is self-suf­fi­cient in some of its food com­modi­ties such as poul­try meat, eggs, pork and fish­eries. How­ever, she is not self-suf­fi­cient when it comes to rice, fruits, veg­eta­bles, beef, mut­ton and dairy milk. Thus, with the ex­cep­tion of poul­try, eggs, pork and fish­eries, Malaysia de­pends on im­ports for most of its food items, as well as ma­chin­ery, which is an in­di­ca­tion of lack of com­par­a­tive ad­van­tage in this sec­tor.

The food trade deficit has grown steadily, from RM1.1bil in 1990 to RM12­bil in 2011. Like any other de­vel­op­ing coun­try, Malaysia has en­joyed the ben­e­fits of cheaper food im­ports. This de­pen­dence, how­ever, has come at a price. The coun­try was not forced to learn how to im­prove pro­duc­tiv­ity and ef­fi­ciency, and dur­ing the food cri­sis in 2008, Malaysia fum­bled in se­cur­ing ad­e­quate food, par­tic­u­larly rice, for her pop­u­la­tion.

Mean­while, on the de­mand side of things, with rapid eco­nomic growth, the per­capita in­come of the pop­u­la­tion has im­proved. This has caused, not only an in­crease in con­sump­tion of food, but also a change in con­sump­tion pat­terns, in terms of at­tributes and high-val­ued foods such as beef, dairy and veg­eta­bles.

UPM’s role

Univer­sity Pu­tra Malaysia (UPM) has played a sig­nif­i­cant role as a cat­a­lyst for the de­vel­op­ment of the agri­cul­tural sec­tor, thanks to its or­gan­i­sa­tion, in­fra­struc­ture and hu­man re­sources; all of which con­trib­ute to the na­tion’s food se­cu­rity agenda.

Es­tab­lished as a school of agri­cul­ture in 1931 and as a cus­to­dian of agri­cul­tural ed­u­ca­tion, UPM has been pro­duc­ing and train­ing hu­man re­sources nec­es­sary to de­velop the sec­tor. In­for­mal train­ing in­cludes ex­ec­u­tive de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes. And as the coun­try de­vel­oped, the scope of the in­sti­tu­tion’s con­tri­bu­tion en­larged from merely teach­ing, to also in­clude re­search, in­no­va­tion and com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion.

Agri­cul­ture con­tin­ues to be the core busi­ness and com­mit­ment of UPM. Seven of its 16 fac­ul­ties are based on agri­cul­tural dis­ci­plines, while five of the nine in­sti­tutes fo­cus on agri­cul­tural re­search. The non-agri­cul­ture-based fac­ul­ties and in­sti­tutes have also strength­ened their of­fer­ing of aca­demic pro­grammes and re­search ac­tiv­i­ties through in­ter-dis­ci­plinary col­lab­o­ra­tions. In ad­di­tion, UPM has an ex­ten­sion cen­tre, namely Univer­si­tyCom­mu­nity Trans­for­ma­tion Cen­tre (UCTC) to trans­fer tech­nol­ogy to farm­ers.

The aca­demic pro­grammes of­fered by UPM en­com­pass the whole “farm to ta­ble” range in­clud­ing pro­duc­tion, post-har­vest, pro­cess­ing, biotech­nol­ogy, ve­teri­nary, en­vi­ron­ment, eco­nom­ics, agribusi­ness, engineering and forestry.

Re­search car­ried out by the ter­tiary in­sti­tute is also cur­rent and ad­dresses is­sues such as pro­duc­tion, pro­cess­ing, biotech­nol­ogy, green tech­nol­ogy, sus­tain­able re­source man­age­ment, port-har­vest losses, food safety and trace­abil­ity. In terms of pro­fes­sional ser­vices, UPM has con­ducted train­ing, ex­ten­sion and out­reach pro­grammes. All th­ese ef­forts will be co­or­di­nated by the Food Se­cu­rity Cen­tre, which will be es­tab­lished this year. It’s mis­sion is that UPM will play a sig­nif­i­cant role in sup­port­ing the gov­ern­ment’s food se­cu­rity ini­tia­tives.

With re­spect to ur­ban­i­sa­tion, the 21st cen­tury has of­ten been de­scribed as “the first ur­ban cen­tury”. Un­prece­dented ru­ral–ur­ban mi­gra­tion has led to rapid ur­ban growth. Whilst in 1900 a mere 13% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion lived in ur­ban ar­eas, UN-Habi­tat es­ti­mates that by 2030, this level would rise to 60%.

In Malaysia, the ur­ban pop­u­la­tion was re­ported at 65.4% in 2000 and 72.2% 2010, and is fore­casted to in­crease to 75% in 2020. This will thus in­crease the pres­sure on ur­ban re­sources. Among the most press­ing needs with rapid ur­ban­i­sa­tion is the ques­tion of ur­ban food se­cu­rity and en­sur­ing the right to food. Ur­ban pop­u­la­tions de­pend on re­li­able and sta­ble avail­abil­ity of food prod­ucts, as well as af­ford­able and con­ve­nient ac­cess to them.

Thus UPM is spear­head­ing ur­ban agri­cul­ture. Ur­ban agri­cul­ture can in­crease food se­cu­rity through two main path­ways – im­proved ac­cess to food and in­creased in­come.

Home-grown food­stuff in­creases the to­tal amount of food avail­able to a house­hold and thus can pre­vent mal­nu­tri­tion. At the same time, the avail­abil­ity of fresh, home grown food prod­ucts, in par­tic­u­lar veg­eta­bles, ad­vances the nutritional sta­tus of house­hold mem­bers and im­proves health.

Se­condly, ur­ban agri­cul­ture can cre­ate an “op­por­tu­nity cost” – do­mes­tic producers can ei­ther save in­come, via the con­sump­tion of home-pro­duced food prod­ucts that are cheaper to pro­duce than to buy from the mar­ket, and/or in­crease in­come by sell­ing their prod­ucts. Ur­ban agri­cul­ture ac­tiv­i­ties will have great po­ten­tial in ad­dress­ing ur­ban poverty and food in­se­cu­rity.

Ru­ral-ur­ban mi­gra­tion has also con­trib­uted to de­clin­ing ru­ral agri­cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties due to de­clin­ing farm labour. It is within this con­text that ur­ban agri­cul­ture stands to play a strate­gic role, not only in en­hanc­ing ur­ban food and liveli­hood se­cu­rity, but also in meet­ing over­all na­tional food self-suf­fi­ciency and se­cu­rity.

UPM is spear­head­ing agri­cul­ture through bridg­ing the tech­no­log­i­cal gap be­tween univer­sity lab­o­ra­to­ries, farms and the in­dus­try play­ers to im­prove pro­duc­tiv­ity and ef­fi­ciency, as well as work to­wards sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment.

Strate­gies and ini­tia­tives

UPM is launch­ing its Strate­gic Plan 2014– 2020 in Jan­uary 2015. Other than for teach­ing and learn­ing, re­search and in­no­va­tion, and in­dus­trial link­ages, the strate­gic plan has a ded­i­cated goal, strate­gic ob­jec­tives and ac­tion plan on agri­cul­ture.

There are two lev­els of ini­tia­tives that UPM is em­bark­ing on, strength­en­ing and re­fo­cus­ing.

Ini­tia­tives that need to be strength­ened in­clude aca­demic pro­grammes at both un­der­grad­u­ate and re­search lev­els. Ini­tia­tives to re­fo­cus and reem­pha­sise are re­search in­no­va­tion, en­trepreneur­ship, ex­ten­sion, in­dus­trial links and in­ter­na­tion­al­i­sa­tion.

In or­der to be rel­e­vant, the univer­sity is also strength­en­ing its strate­gic al­liances with in­dus­try play­ers. There must be a win-win sit­u­a­tion to ef­fec­tively get ben­e­fits from th­ese links. The con­tri­bu­tion of UPM to the in­dus­try can be in the form of re­search and con­sul­tancy, ex­ec­u­tive de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes, ad­vi­sory ser­vices, trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion.

The con­tri­bu­tion of the in­dus­try to UPM in­cludes pro­vid­ing re­search funds and con­sul­tancy, at­tach­ment for aca­demic staff, com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of in­no­va­tion and busi­ness part­ner­ships, lec­tures and sem­i­nars, en­trepreneur­ship de­vel­op­ment and in­dus­trial train­ing.

To do that, UPM is es­tab­lish­ing a Na­tional Food Se­cu­rity Cen­tre to co­or­di­nate all the ac­tiv­i­ties that are be­ing con­ducted by the fac­ul­ties, re­search in­sti­tutes and UCTC on food se­cu­rity to make a more sig­nif­i­cant im­pact. – Story from Univer­sity Pu­tra Malaysia

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