Following the COVID-19 pandemic, food security has been made a top priority in every country across the globe, including Malaysia.
As of now, Malaysia is ranked number 39 (out of 113 countries) in the global food security index and number two in Southeast Asia (behind Singapore).
While this position does not seem too bad, Malaysia still remains vulnerable to food insecurity as we are now mostly dependent on imports such as rice to maintain food supply.
Disruption in the supply chain of imports from neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Indonesia can potentially result in high food price spikes in the future.
According to the Committee on World Food Security, there are four pillars to food security namely availability, access, utilization and stability
- Availability relates to the production and distribution of food, especially through agricultural resources
- Access concerns the affordability and distribution of food based on consumer household preferences
- Utilization relates to how each household prepares and processes food as well as the quality and safety of food for consumption and finally
- Stability looks at how secure the system is over time in delivering food consistently to the target population.
In the age of digital transformation, technology is seen as one of the biggest contributions to achieve global food security.
Here are some ways how technology and innovation is vital in addressing food security.
Healthier food option
According to food scientist, Dr. Maria Andrade, technologies used in achieving food security should ensure high quality food products.
She also said that low food quality exposes the population to poor nutrition and food safety issues, which in turn create a burden on the society, affecting overall socio-economic well-being.
It was reported that Malaysia is behind two key-nutrition related components; protein and micronutrients.
In addition to this, Malaysia has high rates of obesity (13 per cent), diabetes (18.3 per cent), and high blood pressure (38.1 per cent).
Hence, to become a healthier society, Malaysia will need to make healthy food more widely available and encourage citizens to incorporate higher-nutrition foods into their diets.
So, utilizing science, technology and innovation, more food varieties can be created with improve traits and nutritional value.
For instance, biofortification” or “biological fortification” refers to nutritionally enhanced food crops with increased their nutritional value.
By 2050, the world’s population is projected to grow to nearly 10 billion. And as the population increases, demand for food will continue to grow.
So, to ensure the there is enough food resource by 2050, there has to be more than enough food variation to meet the required nutrition levels.
Fortunately, new technologies and innovation offer an opportunity to improve the food system.
For instance, genetic modification on plant varieties can be used for nutrient fortification, tolerance to drought, herbicides, diseases, or pests, and for higher yields.
Longer life shelf
Another way to improve food security is by using technology to reduce food waste.
Excessive food waste can be prevented by extending the shelf life of the food product.
This can be done by implementing innovative preservation technologies such as low or no sodium solution to extend the shelf life of plant-based meat.
Agriculture was once thought to be an outdated sector.
But now, with technology, the agriculture sector has been transformed sector into high yield, high efficiency modern farming.
Modern farming can apply technology to the entire supply chain, thus making it a high investment business.
Examples of modern and smart farming includes the use of high-definition cameras to identify pests and release bio-control to control pests, drones to apply fertilizers and pesticides and GPS guided autonomous vehicles to harvest.
Modern farming reduces costs of production while at the same time produce high yield and stable supply.
So, with this, we can import less vegetables and rice from abroad, thus improving the food security in Malaysia.
This is especially important for Sarawak as we aim to be a net global food exporter by 2030.