How to fix our broken food systemWritten by Ahmad Badri Abdullah
SINCE 2021, we have been witnessing sharp increases in the prices of vegetables, some almost 100 per cent. The same is happening to poultry products like chicken and eggs.
The continued price hikes will have ripple effects on other items and industries. Food manufacturers and restaurants will pass the burden to the end of the supply chain — the consumers.
Some experts and institutions have urged the authorities to enforce a strict price ceiling on essential products and implement price control throughout the year, but these solutions would be effective only in the short run.
Other experts have argued that a strict price ceiling may have negative effects, such as discouraging farmers from increasing production, creating artificial shortages and diverting supply to those who are able and willing to pay above ceiling prices.
While many factors contributed to the food price hike, it is arguably a symptom of the food crisis that has been predicted to strike worldwide due to climate change. As farmers now can't predict dry or rainy seasons due to climate disruption, crops are more exposed to diseases and ruin.
Fixing the food supply chain is critical for the survival of a country like ours. More importantly, we need to reimagine our food system to build resilient food resources for the nation. Food security is achieved by balancing boosting domestic production and developing smart partnerships with other producer countries.
In fixing our broken food system, we crucially need new approaches. In the long run, it is important to develop climate-resilient agricultural strategies and practices. These include an emphasis on soil health, diversified production systems, opting for ecological design and selling to high-value direct markets.
Diversified production that can preserve soil health can mitigate climate risk throughout the growing season as it can reduce losses from weather catastrophes and phenomena. Ecological farming that allows adaptation to the local landscape and climate may offer some buffer from weather-related disturbances. Finally, selling to high-value direct markets can increase profitability while creating social capital.
It is also crucial to shorten the food supply chain in the community. Other than eliminating middlemen to allow farmers to directly market products to consumers and reduce prices, shortening the food supply chain can also be done by developing a culture of community farming.
To transform our food system, we need to shift from conventional agriculture to agroecological systems that promote sustainable consumption while addressing land and resource degradation.
Policy-level initiatives are also crucial. As climate disruption poses risks to our food system, the authorities should consider enhancing policies on crop insurance (or takaful for Muslims) for food farmers in particular.
Such financial products can stabilise farmers' income, while offering protection against yield and price risks.
In the context of climate change, the authorities, producers and consumers need to be cognisant of its impact on food systems and take measures to adapt to and mitigate them. A resilient food system is undoubtedly a lifeline for the current and future generations.
The writer is a Research Fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Thursday 27 Jan 2022