YBhg. Dato’ Mohd Sallehhuddin Bin Hassan

Agriculture has long had great economic and social importance to Malaysia, with new policies being set forth by the government on managing food security and exportation. nourish! team is honored to be given a chance to meet up with YBhg. Dato’ Mohd Sallehhuddin Bin Hassan, the current Secretary General of the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry, to find out more.

 

 

1. What is the main focus when pursuing the food security in Malaysia?

To ensure food security in Malaysia, focus is given towards developing the country's major basic food production capacity through the development of new production areas, strengthening existing food production programs through specialized production schemes, as well as increasing production through application of technology. In addition, entrepreneurship development is also emphasized through various training programs and maximizing the capacity of human capital.

The Ministry is also focusing on the efforts to improve access to food. More direct market opportunities such as the farmer’s markets have been established to improve consumer’s access to food. While the consumers can enjoy affordable prices, through this initiative, farmers can also obtain higher returns by participating directly in the marketing.

Another equally important aspect in pursuing food security in Malaysia is to ensure the food safety and nutrition. In this regard, the focus will be to improve the safety and quality of the food by expanding the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP), Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) and Halal Certification, as well as improving the quality of grading, packaging, labelling and branding.

 

2. An average Malaysian household consumes 79kg of rice annually, with 80% of rice produced locally. How would the future look like in terms of sustainability?

The Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry is always looking for ways to increase rice production in the country. Last year in 2017, the self-sufficiency levels in rice production of our country is at 72.85%, while the national rice imports are at 27.17%. By 2020, the Ministry is targeting our rice to reach at least 80% of the self-sufficiency levels (SSL). In keeping with Malaysia’s future direction, and protecting our country from global supply disruption, the government is currently conducting a holistic study relating to the country’s paddy and rice management, as well as taking measures to uphold good governance pertaining to food security.

There are also various efforts that have been and are being undertaken to increase the production of paddy for national use. These include creating a centralized management, strengthening irrigation and drainage infrastructure, implementing accurate or precision farming practices, increasing the use of automation and mechanization, only using legume seeds that are of approved standards, introducing new seed varieties (such as MARDI Siraj 297, UKM RC-2 and UKM RC-8), and opening new rice producing areas (such as in Pekan, Rompin, Kota Belud and Batang Lupar, which gives the total additional area of 25,905 hectares).

 

3. In the eyes of the Ministry, how can the young be involved in this industry?

To get the young industry players involvement in agriculture, the Ministry is making efforts to provide for the youth in the direction of modernization and technology that will allow them to be competitive in a saturated market. As a stepping stone for the youth, there are a number of special programs and initiatives implemented under the Ministry with the young as the target population. One example is the Youth Agropreneur Program under MARDI.

Since its inception in 2014, the Youth Agropreneur Program has seen almost 5000 participants benefited from it. Technology transfer modalities implemented are in the form of trainings and workshop, consultancies and monitoring, marketing support as well as providing access to grants and financial aid from selected financial institutions. Start-up grants are provided to selected young entrepreneurs to purchase equipment that will increase their productivity and efficiency, as well as to improve their products through proper labelling, packaging, food preservation methods and certifications (such as Halal, MeSTI, etc.). Assistance offered range from the initial project sum of RM20,000, all the way up to RM200,000 per project.

The Youth Agropreneur Program encompasses all activities within the value chain of agricultural industries such as crops, livestock, fisheries, and agro-based industries including marketing, technology, support services and agro-tourism. This can thereby enhance the Youth Agropreneur's income as a whole.

 

4. In the quest to increase export of local produce, what key crops would Malaysia focus on?

The agriculture sector still proves to be one of the most important primary economic sectors that receives a lot of attention in world trade, as it is a food supplier and source of raw materials. Strengthening existing markets, as well as exploring new markets, is one of the strategies that the Ministry has undertaken in its efforts to improve the national trade balance. Several initiatives have been implemented to strengthen export-led agriculture and make the agro-food sector an important source of income for the country.

Between 2016 – 2017, total exports in the agricultural sector increased between 2016 – 2017 from RM1,480,062 to RM1,524,744. Among the main crops exported from Malaysia are fruits like pineapple, durian, jackfruit and more. Also, in recent years, exports of agro-food using agricultural products, like butter, cocoa powder and black pepper are increasing yearly. Focus will also be given to Halal products to increase Malaysia’s export value.

 

5. As the industry moves towards intensive multi-cropping for food sustainability, to support a hungry young demographic, would the future focus on sustainability or export based agriculture?

According to the Department of Statistics, Malaysia’s population is expected to receive an increase of 12.9 million people for a period of 30 years between 2010 and 2040. In an effort towards food security and promoting sustainable agriculture, the Ministry is ensuring continuous research is carried out to diversify and enhance agricultural methods in order to improve production.

This proves to be a daunting task especially when faced with dwindling agricultural land, less water for irrigation, rising energy and labour costs. Focus is made on the produce of utmost importance, which include the basic foods of the Malaysian population, such as rice, vegetables and fruits, meat and fish. Simultaneously, as mentioned, with the rising agro-food and agriculture product exports, the Ministry has already implemented several initiatives to strengthen export-led agriculture and boost the agro-food sector to become a substantial source of Malaysia’s income.

 

6. As culinary players, we see Malaysia as a hive of potential gourmet locavore exports; namely gluten free produce, durians, Patin etc. What key produce does the Ministry identify to champion Malaysia slow food?

How does MOA see the future of Malaysia cuisine from an agricultural portfolio? The Ministry intends to develop the culinary industry in order to introduce Malaysian cuisine to the world. The development of this industry is expected to increase the demand for agricultural produce and local food products. Among the menu that will be featured are satay, rendang, nasi lemak, chicken rice, laksa, soto, and so on. In this regard, there is no specific key agricultural produce to champion this initiative, but the menu development must be based on the raw material of which can be produced locally.

 

7. Dasar Agromakanan Negara 2011 – 2020 has grown the herb industry at a rate of 15.4% per year. What would the Ministry’s wish list be for the global palate of Malaysian herbs?

The Dasar Agromakanan Negara 2011 – 2020, which is the national food policy under this Ministry, projected a growth of the herb industry at a rate of 15.4% per year. The bulk of the herb industry is based on the increased herbal acceptance in products such as traditional medicine, functional foods, super foods, health supplements, natural health care products and organic foods. Current research and development projects are focused on botanical drugs, cosmetics and neutraceuticals. The herbs commonly identified for these purposes include Tongkat Ali (Eurycoma longifolia), Kacip Fatimah (Labisia pumila), Misai Kucing (Orthosiphon stamineus), Hempedu Bumi (Andographis paniculata), and Dukung Anak (Phyllanthus niruri).

The Ministry intends to develop a comprehensive development plan for culinary industry, which will focus on the development of Malaysian authentic dishes, incorporating the flavors and original heritage of our country. Also, under this plan, a series of directives will take place, including the identification of selected authentic local cuisines, the determination of the standards of procedure and dish presentation, as well as setting strategic planning to determine the future direction of herbs in authentic Malaysian cuisine.

 

8. The fraternity is elated to be included in the pursuit of Malaysian identity. What would the ministry like to communicate to see chefs, hotel buyers, ship chandlers and trade buyers? How can we support the Ministry’s policy?

The Malaysian Culinary Industry Development Council and steering committee will be the leading government entity of this industry in Malaysia. It strives towards the development of a high value food and beverage (F&B) industry based on local dishes and flavors, promote food tourism through the uniqueness of Malaysian authentic cuisines and culture, and also provide a platform for Malaysian authentic cuisines to get exported to overseas markets. The council and the steering committee comprises of key stakeholders of the industry that includes government agencies, industry players, universities, as well as local chef associations.

Through this council, strategic plans will be implemented that focuses on the primary aim of developing authentic dishes that incorporate the flavors and original heritage of Malaysia, standardizing procedures and dish presentation, developing culinary training modules, empowering culinary industry entrepreneurs, creating recognition and accreditation for culinary establishments and chefs, and promoting local flavors to the global market.

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