A “recipe” for the perfect storm

PETALING JAYA: It’s the perfect storm – climate change, war, the pandemic and its ripple effects have all led to spikes in food prices for Malaysians.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, now in its third month, has resulted in a shortage of wheat and oil.

The pandemic has not only affected food production, but also disrupted supply chains. Extreme weather events have seen either droughts or flash floods hit farmland.

While Malaysia has scrapped the requirement for an approved permit (AP) for importing food, economists have warned the wheat shortage could last as long as the Russia-Ukraine conflict continues.

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But even when it ends, there are bigger concerns.

According to the United Nations World Food Programme, disruptions to the food system can be linked to climate change and globalization, as well as conflict and conflict.

The climate crisis, he said, is a major driver of hunger today.

“All inhabited regions of the world are experiencing the effects of climate change. Over the past decade, 1.7 billion people have been affected by extreme weather and climate-related disasters.

“Communities contributing least to the climate crisis are bearing the brunt of its impacts, with limited means to deal with them,” he said in a recent statement.

READ ALSO : Climate crisis puts strain on Malaysia’s food security

Five days ago, India banned wheat exports with immediate effect, citing a risk to its food security, partly due to the war in Ukraine.

At the same time, a scorching heat wave affected its production and domestic prices hit a record high.

Chinese Agriculture Minister Tang Renjian also reportedly warned last month that the country’s winter wheat harvest would be poor after wheat-growing regions were hit by major floods.

At home, Malaysia lost RM90.6 million in agricultural produce during the massive floods that hit the Klang Valley and several other states in December last year.

Malaysian Federation of Farmers’ Associations adviser Datuk Jeffrey Ng said hot weather and lack of workers had affected chicken supply in the country, leading to the sale of underweight birds.

Penang Consumers Association Education Officer NV Subbarow said many factors were driving food inflation, including the climate crisis.

With supply shortages expected even more frequently in the future, Subbarow said Malaysians must be prepared to turn to alternatives.

This includes preparing meals using different ingredients and protein sources than they normally would.

“For example, if chicken is too expensive, buy fish. If the fish you usually eat is too expensive, try a chaper variety.

“There are also other protein sources available such as duck and even vegetable protein such as millet,” he said, adding that suppliers would not cut prices during shortages if demand remains high. .

However, University of Science and Technology Malaysia economics professor Professor Geoffrey Williams has warned that the structural impact of Covid-19 lockdowns around the world has destroyed the food cycle.

The closures have halted planting, growing and harvesting activities and shuttered processing plants while disrupting supply chain and logistics systems.

“We still haven’t recovered from that. The conflict between Ukraine and Russia has damaged the grain supply of both countries and they are storing rather than transporting.

“Long-term restrictions on global food supply and transportation in favor of Western suppliers, particularly in the European Union (EU), have hurt the global food industry for decades,” he said. yesterday.

All countries, he said, produce far more food than the world’s population needs, but due to political restrictions, many people in need do not have access to it.

READ ALSO: Global Chain Reaction to Food Security

Professor Williams said shortages, including of wheat, would last as long as there were supply restrictions from Russia and Ukraine and food stocks in the EU and US.

“Both Russia and Ukraine have enough stocks, but transport and logistics are down, and economic sanctions against Russia have halted their exports.

“The conflict is also affecting planting and harvesting schedules in Ukraine, which is damaging the production pipeline and will lead to higher futures prices,” he added.

He said other countries could boost production, but it would depend on the planting and harvesting cycle. For example, he said that the EU and the United States have large capacities and stocks.

“They can immediately increase supply from stocks and increase production and exports within the year by removing quotas and subsidies.

“The only real problem they are facing is a labor shortage for the harvest caused by the residual travel restrictions due to the closures.

“If they address these issues, the supply shock can be limited,” he said, adding that leaders must learn from the devastating impact of the shutdowns.

Calling for food market liberalization as the way forward, he said Malaysia should carry out comprehensive food supply reform and implement food security policies.

Among the issues to be addressed are import dependence, lack of competition in domestic supply, and industry’s effectiveness in reducing reliance on low-wage labour.

“Malaysia cannot continue to depend on global markets and must create an independent food sourcing policy based on best agricultural practices and sound environmental, social, governance and sustainability principles,” he added.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to a shortage of wheat around the world, as Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of corn, wheat and sunflower oil.

Russia, meanwhile, is the world’s largest wheat exporter, supplying more than 17% of all wheat sold across its borders.

Deputy director of the Khazanah Research Institute, Dr Sarena Che Omar, said it remained a “guessing game” over how long the wheat shortage would last amid the ongoing war.

“As long as the Ukraine-Russia conflict and other risk factors persist, shortages or price inflation may persist,” she said.

Sarena said there must be a healthy balance between imports and domestic production.

“I do not tolerate being 100% self-sufficient in every food on our menu at all costs,” she said, adding that food security is not measured just by how much we import.

As Malaysia is not ready to be self-sufficient in everything, she said there are potential industries where we have a competitive advantage that should be developed. “Areas such as Sabah and Sarawak artisanal rice, ulam production, tropical fruits, aquaculture and poultry are areas worth considering for the national industry and also for their potential. export,” she said.

Sarena added that the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us how intertwined we all are globally.

“It also shows how global consumerism is so common, and this pandemic has underscored the value of appreciating local products, especially those that grow naturally in our environment,” she said.

“Why buy expensive imported salads when we can still achieve good health and environmental scores by buying local ulam?”