On 3 April 2020, Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) held ‘IDEAS Webinar: Ensuring Food Security and Access During the COVID-19 Crisis’. It is our second event in the IDEAS Webinar series. The webinar discussed food security during COVID-19, the domestic supply chain of food as well as agriculture, and issues regarding the vulnerable groups such as indigenous people, the homeless, immigrants and refugees. The event was moderated by Wan Ya Shin, IDEAS’ very own Research Manager.
The first speaker was Dr. Sarena Che Omar, Senior Research Associate at Khazanah Research Institute (KRI). Dr. Sarena started the discussion with the concept of food security; availability, accessibility, stability, utilization and sustainability. According to her, food security is more than the amount of food available in front of us. Dr. Sarena also highlighted her concern for the immigrant workers, whom she called ‘invisible communities’. Based on previous research, household expenditure for food will increase as more time is spent at home due to the Movement Control Order (MCO), which makes it tougher for the poor and immigrant workers. Lastly, she reiterated that food security is multi-dimensional and also urged the taskforce, the media and NGOs to put more attention towards invisible communities.
The second speaker, Dr. John Tey Yeong Sheng is a Senior Reseacher at the Institute of Agricultural and Food Policy Studies, UPM. Dr. Tey mentioned about the stages of rapid change in Malaysian multifaceted issues economy since the implementation of MCO. The first stage is escalation-fear, causing consumers to hoard daily necessities and less perishables. The second stage is accumulation-self-sustainment, which has shown that our markets and logistics are not yet mature for a demand explosion. He also highlighted the exposure of just-in-time food security model weakness when it comes to reliance on logistics distribution. Lastly, Dr. Tey stressed that this region, not only Malaysia, is vulnerable in terms of food security.
The third speaker, Dr. David Dawe is currently a Senior Economist and Regional Strategy & Policy Advisor at Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Mr. Dawe started off with an explanation on the international situation of rice supply, where Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar had put restrictions on their export of rice. India, meanwhile, is different as export supply is ample but they are having logistics issues to transport rice out of the country. Wheat and maize supply for global markets are amply stocked although the prices are high. In his opinion, Malaysia is in an economically good position, even when food prices have gone higher as it is an upper middle income country. Dr. Dawe’s main concern is regarding food demand and people losing access to food. He suggested the government come up with a better social protection system to help people to continue to be able to buy food.
Ya Shin concluded the webinar by highlighting the biggest problem regarding food security which is the access to food, especially among the most vulnerable. In order to tackle the problem, it is recommended that a wider safety net for the people and the farmers and a call for a public-private coordination and partnership, as well as the NGOs, to provide and distribute the food.
For those who missed the webinar session and would like to watch it, the video recording of the webinar is available below.