WASTE NOT, WANT NOT

Malaysia 2017 | AGRICULTURE & PLANTATIONS | FOCUS: MYFOODSAVE CAMPAIGN

Though the agriculture and processed food sector in Malaysia has high potential for growth, more work needs to be done to combat food loss from harvesting or processing.

Malaysia has a rich culinary tradition, influenced by the Malay, Indian, and Chinese cultures and a variety of immigrant cuisine. In terms of food production, Malaysia is relatively self-sustainable. This industry is predominantly Malaysian-owned and dominated by SMEs, with a notable presence of MNCs producing processed food products in the country. Subsectors include cocoa and chocolate products, fishery, cereals and cereal products, processed fruit and vegetables, confectionery, food ingredients, herbs and spices, beverages, animal feed, and others. Total processed food contributed about MYR18 billion to the GDP and was exported to more than 200 countries, while imports of processed food totaled MYR17.8 billion in 2015. The major processed food exports comprises edible products and preparations (MYR5.6 billion), cocoa and cocoa preparations (MYR4.1 billion), prepared cereals and flour preparations (MYR2.8 billion), dairy products (MYR1.4 billion), and margarine and shortening (MYR1.1 billion). Major export destinations include Singapore, Indonesia, the US, Thailand, and China. Raw materials such as cereals and dairy products continued to be imported for further processing. The main imports of processed food were edible products and preparations (MYR5.2 billion), dairy products (MYR3.5 billion), sugar and sugar confectionary (MYR3.4 billion), prepared/preserved vegetables and fruits (MYR1.8 billion), and cocoa and cocoa preparations (MYR1.5 billion). Malaysia is self-sufficient in poultry and eggs, but imports about 80% of its beef requirements. Among the dairy products produced are milk powder, sweetened condensed milk, pasteurized or sterilized liquid milk, ice cream, yoghurt, and other fermented milk.

Agriculture is one of the sectors identified in the National Key Economic Areas (NKEAs) of the Eleventh Malaysia Plan, including fruits and vegetables as a subsector, both because of the high-growth potential and because of the strategic nature in ensuring national food security. The vision is to export premium fruits and vegetables to the Middle East and Europe, which import more than 50% of the global production of higher quality local fruits and vegetables that comply with food safety standards. Six high-value non-seasonal tropical fruits (rock melon, starfruit, papaya, banana, pineapple, and jackfruit) and three high-value highland vegetables (lettuce, tomato, and capsicum) have been identified as the target produce for that matter.
The non-commodity based agricultural sector is important for the nation's employment. The Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI) is the agency responsible for moving the industry up in the value chain by promoting development of new product and commercialization of these. In addition, MARDI is a strong advocate of reducing food waste in the country, which currently stands at a high figure. In March 2016, the MySaveFood campaign was launched in conjunction with the Food Agricultural Organization (FAO), a UN agency. The central objective of this campaign is to raise awareness about food wastage and to establish a mentality change—both amongst consumers and producers. The first group is responsible for food waste, whilst the second goes unseen by consumers as it ranges from harvesting and transportation to milling and storing. Around one-third of the total nation-wide harvest is lost before it reaches the dinner table—a figure that is average for Malaysia, but high compared to developed countries. However, in western countries food waste, or the food that has reached the dinner table, is much higher than in Malaysia.

According to MARDI's assessment, 15,000 tons of cooked food is wasted per day in Malaysia, of which 3,000 tons can still be consumed. Changing this brings logistical challenges, and this cannot be organized or implemented solely from the government and requires active participation of civil society. Thus far, several NGOs have emerged to, for example, redistribute expired products from supermarkets for the needy.
Besides the FAO, MARDI has partnered with the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry (MOA), the Ministry of Health (MOH), the Solid Waste Management & Public Cleansing Corporation (SWCorp), Southeast Asian Council for Food Security and Fair Trade (SEACON), and The Lost Food Project. With this network of national and global partner organizations, MARDI seeks to ignite transformation to have a sustainable agricultural sector, and to secure commitments from all stakeholders involved—the government, producers and consumers.