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Mitigating poverty and food insecurity in one go

We can address both poverty and food insecurity through efficient resource management. Photo by Megan Thomas on Unsplash

By: Datin Sri Prof. Dr. Suhaiza Hanim Dato Mohamad Zailani

The importance of addressing food insecurity has been recognised through the second goal of
the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aspires to end hunger, guarantee food
security, improve nutrition, and advance sustainable agriculture by 2030.

Malaysia is not an exception to the growing danger of escalating food insecurity. Malaysia
scored moderately for hunger on the 2022 Global Hunger Index, with a minor increase in the
hunger index from 10.9 in 2014 to 12.5 in 2022, most likely reflecting an increase in food
insecurity due to the pandemic.

Datin Sri Prof. Dr. Suhaiza Hanim Dato Mohamad Zailani

Alongside the pandemic, there is a relationship between food insecurity and poverty. The
minimum wage in Malaysia is set at RM1,500, despite the fact that the Department of
Statistics reports that the country’s poverty line income is RM2,208.

Low-income families with single working parents and those earning the minimum wage of
RM1,500 may find that their low monthly household earnings are insufficient to sustain a
stable life as prices of food and other necessities keep increasing (inflation).

In fact, food security is one of the primary issues addressed in the revised Budget 2023. The
necessity for agrifood sector reform was emphasised by Finance Minister Datuk Seri Anwar
Ibrahim, with a focus on ensuring the sustainability of regional food production.

Compared to other economic sectors, agriculture has a significant positive influence on
poverty reduction and food security. Agriculture has a crucial role in the national economy
since it greatly boosts national income, export revenues, and employment creation. To
guarantee that the nation always has a sufficient food supply, even during emergencies like
the COVID-19 pandemic, domestic food production is crucial in this circumstance.

The Malaysian government acknowledges that current biotechnology practises like genetic
engineering have the potential to increase agricultural productivity and output. These will
guarantee that the food security’s accessibility and availability aspects are taken care of.

According to Science, Technology, and Innovation Minister Chang Lih Kang, Malaysian
farms may soon be staffed by robots, drones, and remote-controlled sensors to monitor,
irrigate, and fertilise crops as the nation works to increase food security.

Prioritising climate-friendly agriculture on the existing agricultural lands, transferring new
high-yielding technologies to these croplands, managing integrated water resources,
improving product efficiency, and managing agricultural waste are some examples of the
strategies to improve the agriculture sector’s performance and efficiency to ensure sustainable
food security.

In addition to approaches related to agricultural development and crop production, increased
funding for research and related infrastructure may considerably promote food security in
developing nations, such as in Malaysia.

Examples of this include enhancing the means of subsistence and sources of income for the
poor, raising the productivity of the natural resources available to smallholder farmers,
fisheries, and forest operators, as well as enhancing social protection, human capacity, and
income security.

Community-based organisations (CBOs) play an important role in risk management,
particularly during times of disaster, and are closely related to the entire process of ensuring
food security.

CBOs may assist low-income and impoverished families in Malaysia with managing and
reducing risks through co-sponsoring regional plans for infrastructure development, which
can be done by relying on social capital.

In keeping with the core goals of the SDGs, Urban Agriculture (UA) is viewed as a beneficial
programme that promotes sustainable urban development by supplying fresh food,
particularly for low-income families.

Because urban agriculture may encourage small companies to sell veggies and compost,
social empowerment through UA can help reduce poverty and satisfy urban food demands.

Due to the technologies employed, such as rooftop, aquaponics, hydropower, and
horticulture, UA does not need a sizable amount of land and can be recreated without one. As
a result, it can be the main source of food for the family and is crucial in lowering food

To guarantee that Malaysians’ real incomes are adequately sustained and to enable the low-
income people choose better and healthier food choices, income growth as a consequence of
improved skills and education is required.

The proverbial ‘to kill two birds with one stone’ probably is true after all, when it comes to
tackling poverty and addressing food insecurity.

The author is the Director of the Ungku Aziz Centre for Development Studies, Universiti Malaya. She
may be reached at shmz@um.edu.my

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