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Author: savemalaysia   |   Latest post: Tue, 20 Oct 2020, 10:13 AM

 

Invest in R&D to achieve food security By PROFESSOR DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM

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LETTER: Food security remains the nation's major development agenda. Year in year out, we struggle to reduce food imports running into billions of ringgit. We are only about 70 per cent secure in our staple food of rice. We continue to be import dependent, especially for meat and dairy products.

There have been attempts to close the gap, which have been unsuccessful. The current Covid-19 situation has brought the issue of food security into even sharper focus as countries shut down their borders.

Singapore has been faring worse with less than 10 per cent sufficiency in most food. This explains why the country has plans to increase the production of local food.

They have set the "30 by 30" goal, which is to produce 30 per cent of Singapore's nutritional needs locally by 2030. The goal aims to increase the cultivation of vegetables and boost the production of protein sources.

The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) has been given the task and to help achieve the "30 by 30" goal, S$144 million of research funding has been made available under the Singapore Food Story R&D Programme, led by SFA and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR).

SFA has also established a S$30 million "30x30 Express" grant to support local farmers to ramp up production of eggs, vegetables and fish over the next six to 24 months. What Singapore lacks in space, it makes up for in research and development (R&D), innovation and technology.

Working closely with other agencies, including SFA and complementing work from institutes of higher learning, A*STAR recently established the Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation (SIFBI) to bring its food science research under one roof and create a synergistic platform to build on collaborations and better facilitate the economic value capture for Singapore's food ecosystem.

Leveraging biotechnology — the process of using biology (fermentation as an example) to create products and services — SIFBI can develop various tools and processes that enhance the food manufacturing system in Singapore.

Malaysia has long established the agri-biotech institutes under the Mininstry of Science, Technology and Innovation to do exactly what SIFBI plans to do. Unfortunately, as with many other R&D institutes that we have established, we did not focus on building up the talents and injecting the necessary R&D funding.

It is therefore not a surprise that we have not made much headway in addressing our food security challenge. We need to move away from this impressive building mindset, and instead invest in the talent and equipment to deliver the much needed R&D.

It is time for us to inject more R&D funding to find solutions to our food security struggle. The 12th Malaysia Plan should be a good start to overhaul our strategy on R&D. Otherwise, come 2030, our story on food security will be the same.

PROFESSOR DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM

Fellow, Academy of Science, UCSI University

 

https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/letters/2020/09/623861/invest-rd-achieve-food-security

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