PROF DR JACOB GEORGE APPEALS TO THE MALAYSIAN KING TO DECREE CAMERON HIGHLANDS A FOOD SECURITY ZONE!
The current population of Malaysia is 32,491,091 as of Monday, August 5, 2019, based on the latest United Nations estimates!
I am quite certain, it does not take into cognizance the alleged 5 million or so undocumented and illegals in the country!
With that in mind, how does Malaysia address food security issues to protect all stakeholders resulting in food available and affordable for everyone here?
Farming has been a major part of civilization for millennia and today, despite challenges, loss of farming land, human resources, operational costs and hurdles, dedicated and passionate farmers, continue that legacy.
Farmers have also worked alongside scientists, who have guided them in the development of new crops, created new tools, and pioneered new techniques.
Advances in plant breeding, crop protection, and farming technology have made it possible for farmers to produce way more food on the same amount of land, boosted the nutritional content of food, improved taste, and extended shelf life, all while keeping costs down.
But more need to be done.
We cannot deny that farming is also what most Malaysians consider “dirty, difficult and demanding”.
It is no wonder that young people are not interested in this sector!
And food production in agriculture is one of the most essential sectors but also the most criticized, under-appreciated and threatened in 2019!
This is why I find the act of destroying active farm land in Cameron Highlands, despicable, an offense of the highest degree, even treason, and in this case since, our food security situation in Malaysia is extremely fragile and vulnerable!
I was at the UN’s World Food Security Summit in Rome in the 90s and had the opportunity to monitor, present opinions with the IGO (international governmental organisations) and NGO communities as well as the government-to-government sessions face-to-face courtesy of our Malaysian ambassador to Italy during that period!
But my concern today is not at the global optics but to ascertain where Malaysia’s food security is benched at and most importantly, at Cameron Highlands!
For far too long farmers and food production centers in Cameron Highlands, have not be accorded special privileges and protection in order to preserve continued production, technical and technological advances and generational experience.
After more than 60 years of high intensive construction and development, the farming environment has greatly suffered severe reduction of good farming land.
Worse, there was never a strategic long term plan planned and rolled put to seek alternate sites to replace ecologically sensitive areas.
Despite the setting up of government agencies to spearhead a strategic plan to food security, most if not all, have failed despite billions been allegedly, spent over decades.
That leads me to ask whether, we have now a 20 year plan of action, which will be a paradigm shift, not just for farmers but farming land in and around the nation and most importantly, at Cameron Highlands?
Is there strong export and import oriented policies in place so that vicious price fluctuations are addressed to maintain a decent pricing for the crops to protect the rights, interests and needs of our farmers?
Do we have cash crop insurance for farmers?
Or are prices now controlled by cartels and monopolies and the underworld?
When will we have a policy on cluster farming, as it cuts cost of production by at least 40%?
When will we have agricultural inputs channeled as directly as possible to the farmers, so that production cost is mitigated?
As any reduction of operational costs to farmers cutting off the middle men, seepage, gravy train hunters and cronies, will reduce cost to consumers.
I do not deny that many of these issues have been raised and processes implemented, by the former Ministry of Agriculture then renamed, Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry, but have they been really effective?
If so, can the results or audits of those processes, the effectiveness and delivery of these initiatives be made public?
What were the bench mark set and have these been achieved?
Who can vouch for these ‘achievements?’
It is embarrassing, that with billions pumped in through related agencies which include, Mardi and a host of agencies, we have yet to produce basic cash crop seeds.
On the other hand, fertilizer manufacturing is fragmented, thus the actual cost to the farmers is market based and not incentive based.
For example, composting all chicken manure and enriching it, will bring down cost tremendously.
But it is done more as small private initiatives and thus, there is no cost benefit to end users.
There must be an independent body working directly with the farmers in Cameron Highlands, which cuts across red tapes, politics and bureaucracy, so that allocations to farmers are delivered.
In recent years, Cameron Highlands has been experiencing rapid development, in terms of infrastructure and real estate has be a threat to their agriculture industry, food production and its security.
It impacts the most popular vegetables planted and processed from Cameron Highlands which are cabbage, tomatoes, peas and Chinese cabbage.
They are usually supplied to many parts around Malaysia, while, some are being exported to Singapore.
Strawberries are a very popular natural produce here are being exported as well.
But a clear and present danger and problem to farmers is the need for more land, for food cultivation and to address and combat the imminent threat from food imports from China!
Farmers are suffering in terms of profit and income due to this.
Meanwhile, about 90% of those who are employed in the farms are Bangladeshis and this requiring overhead like salary, incentives and accommodation, among others.
There are also other challenges where fertile land is being destroyed by state apparatus and agents as well!
With all these factors involved, the agriculture industry is no longer as lucrative and attractive as it was before, what more with the monopoly of a certain player and the rampant land clearing activities which have been happening without control by the state government or those who are in power.
There can be no food security without security for farmers in Cameron Highlands!
This is why I am appealing to our beloved King, who is also the Sultan of Pahang, to decree that Cameron Highlands be gazette a food security zone and provided all national and state resources and protection in the national interest!