RECENTLY, a number of food security issues have taken a stranglehold on Malaysians. From food price hikes to shortages of essentials like oil and chicken, food security has come under sharp scrutiny as a global and national issue over the last few years.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), food security is categorised in four dimensions:

> Availability: The availability of sufficient quantities of food of appropriate quality, supplied through domestic production or imports.

> Access: Individuals’ access to adequate resources for acquiring appropriate foods for a nutritious diet.

>Utilisation: Utilisation of food through adequate diet, clean water, sanitation and healthcare to reach a state of nutritional well-being whereby all physiological needs are met. This also highlights the importance of non-food inputs in food security.

>Stability: A population, household or individual must have access to adequate food at all times to be food secure. Importantly, they should not risk losing access to food as a consequence of sudden shocks (an economic or climatic crisis) or cyclical events (seasonal food insecurity).

Despite having 700,000 hectares of arable land, we are still short on meeting our national requirements.

In 2020 alone, Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM) recorded that we imported RM55.5bil worth of food products. According to DOSM, we are still highly dependent on imports of mutton (RM879.4mil), mango (RM87.9mil), coconut (RM266.1mil) and beef (RM2.2bil) to meet domestic demands.

Cheah packing meals with his employees for Sunway Meal Pack-a-thon in collaboration with Rise Against Hunger.Cheah packing meals with his employees for Sunway Meal Pack-a-thon in collaboration with Rise Against Hunger.

Chances are that if you are making minimum wage in Malaysia, the bulk of your earnings will go into buying food staples.

International ecommerce platform Picodi reported that “basic food sufficient to meet the minimum nutrient requirements is worth 35.3% of the minimum wage” in Malaysia.

In 2021, products like milk, bread, vegetables, rice, eggs, cheese, meat and fruit, for instance, were “worth 34.5% of last year’s minimum wage” – that means food prices have risen faster than the minimum net wage (RM1,052) of the country.

This has also been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and international conflicts that have disrupted global supply chains in the last couple of years and have hit underprivileged communities the hardest.

Future of food security

In a food crisis, vulnerable members of society like low-income (B40) families, orang asli and refugees stand to lose the most. There’s an urgent need to ensure that these population segments have the necessary support to survive.

Initiatives like Sunway Group’s Sunway Meal Pack-a-thon collaboration with US-based non governmental organisation Rise Against Hunger to feed some 4,500 beneficiaries will benefit orang asli communities, orphanages, nursing homes and refugees across the country.

The event happened on Aug 16 this year at Sunway Pyramid with 60,000 meals packed by close to 200 Sunway staff volunteers.

As Sunway plans to carry out similar initiatives leading up to their 50th anniversary, they plan to pack a total of 270,000 meals this year alone with the help of over 650 Sunway volunteers group-wide and student volunteers from various Sunway educational institutions throughout the country.

As a well-balanced diet is a facet of food security too, every Sunway pack contains rice, lentils, dehydrated vegetables and essential vitamins that make up a healthy meal.

For Sunway, the culture of giving back to society stems from the group’s founder and chairman Tan Sri Dr Jeffrey Cheah, who has been recently named for the fourth time in Forbes Asia’s “Asia’s Heroes of Philanthropy” list which honours individuals who have demonstrated commitment to various social causes.

“The issue of food security is one that we at Sunway take seriously, and we are committed to supporting our communities in need,” said Cheah.

“We firmly believe that no corporation can live apart from the communities it serves. In the lead-up to Sunway’s 50th anniversary in 2024, we have committed to packing two million meals for the underserved and undernourished communities nationwide.”

Sunway has its own food bank and has packed and distributed about 190,000kg of food to 70,000 beneficiaries nationwide with help from partners like the Malaysian Red Crescent Society, Selangor Youth Community, Yayasan Kebajikan Negara, Development of Human Resources for Rural Areas, the Food Aid Foundation, The Lost Food Project and FFM Berhad.

In a two-pronged approach, the food bank acts not only as a donor but also a platform for fellow Malaysians to contribute to a shared food sustainability mission.

This is all part of Sunway’s goal to achieve zero hunger through their #SunwayforGood food aid programme to address food security.

Seeding self-sufficiency

Rather than gentrifying neighbourhoods to make beautiful landscapes, city planners and dwellers are beginning to adopt urban farming to make use of existing spaces we live in to create small gardens.

Developers like Sunway have taken to this concept fairly quickly. Apart from their corporate social responsibility initiatives under the group’s flagship #SunwayforGood umbrella, Sunway is also addressing food security through organic and urban farming.

As part of their stake in sustainable food production as well, 8.1 hectares of land in Sunway City Ipoh was repurposed for the development of Sunway Organic Farm – with the aim to produce at least 150,000kg of pesticide-free fruits and vegetables by 2030.

Sunway XFarms will also be launching Kuala Lumpur’s largest urban indoor vertical farm to make the most of available urban space.

The new Sunway XFarms hub at Sunway Tower is expected to produce at least 13,000kg of pesticide-free vegetables every month for the urban population of Kuala Lumpur.

There are also future plans for Sunway XFarms to expand one million square feet of decentralised smart farms to generate 32 million kg of produce per year.

It is important to note that leading conglomerates like Sunway can push sustainability trends like urban farming into the forefront by reaffirming their commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (in particular, Goal 2: Zero Hunger by 2030) with actionable and tangible programmes that benefit the underserved.

Establishing farms and producing food where people live in an integrated manner is the most practical way of approaching this problem of food security in urban areas.

Smart, green community-driven farming can help Malaysians to grow nutritious food independently.

Easy-to-grow crops like tomato, chilli and herbs like rosemary and thyme can cope well in a small balcony, whereas crops like beetroot, broad bean and carrot grow easily in containers.

As Malaysia currently ranks 39 out of 113 countries for overall food security, there are still ways we can improve the availability, affordability, quality, safety and our natural resources resilience.