DoSM: Covid-19 pandemic cut Malaysia’s 2020 food output as farms downsized, fish catch fell from foreign labour shortage

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Fishermen are pictured mending their nets at Bayan Lepas June 16, 2021. The the DOSM said the reduction of fish landing is due to a decrease in the number of vessels operating at sea because of the shortage in foreign labour. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
Fishermen are pictured mending their nets at Bayan Lepas June 16, 2021. The the DOSM said the reduction of fish landing is due to a decrease in the number of vessels operating at sea because of the shortage in foreign labour. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 26 — The Covid-19 pandemic indirectly caused Malaysia to produce less food in 2020 and be less self-sufficient for certain food items, the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DoSM) said.

In its latest report on Malaysia’s consumption levels and self-sufficiency levels of 45 selected agricultural products, the DOSM noted that the Covid-19 pandemic that struck the country since 2020 had indirectly affected Malaysia’s agricultural sector such as in terms of supply and demand for food products.

For example, Malaysia’s production levels for 23 agricultural items declined in 2020, as compared to 21 items in 2019.

“Covid-19 pandemic affected farmers to reduce the size of farms and turn to other varieties of crops.

“As for fisheries, the reduction of fish landing is due to a decrease in the number of vessels operating at sea because of the shortage in foreign labour.

“However, the decline of livestock production was due to the decrease of demand impacted by prolonged Movement Control Order period,” the DoSM wrote in its report titled “Supply & Utilization Accounts Selected Agricultural Commodities 2016-2020”.

Malay Mail’s check of the report showed that food items that recorded a decline in production levels in 2020 were banana, watermelon, rambutan, mangosteen, langsat, mango, mustard greens, cucumber, spinach, lady’s fingers, long bean, sweet potato, cassava, lime, poultry meat, pork, beef, mutton, tuna, cuttlefish, tilapia, torpedo scad (ikan cencaru), crab.

DoSM noted that adopting technology as part of efforts to rejuvenate the agriculture sector could boost production and address unemployment issues.

Noting that the number of unemployed persons in Malaysia is more than pre-pandemic times and remained high at 768,700 persons in June 2021, DoSM said the agriculture industry offers job opportunities especially for the youth and graduates “which may also resolve the labour shortages in this industry”.

Fewer items with over 100pc Self-Sufficiency Ratio

Similarly, Covid-19 affected the number of food items for which Malaysia had a self-sufficiency ratio (SSR) of more than 100 per cent, with only 19 such items in 2020 as compared to 25 items in 2019.

“This was due to the implementation of movement control order (MCO) to curb Covid-19 pandemic whereby only essential services were allowed to operate with restricted working hours and minimum number of employees which affected the production,” DOSM said when explaining the decrease in the number of locally produced food that Malaysia could fully supply for locals.

Items with a self-sufficiency ratio of more than 100 per cent means that Malaysia’s production or supply is sufficient to meet local demand.

For food items, the higher the self-sufficiency ratio, the more capable a country is of meeting its own local demand and the less reliant it is on food imported from other countries.

The 19 food items that Malaysia produced in excess of local needs in 2020 have a SSR figure in the range of 100.1 per cent (banana) to 157.7 per cent (sugarcane).

The other items among the 19 are shrimp, lady’s finger, pineapple, durian, sweet corn, long bean, tuna, jackfruit, spinach, cucumber, brinjal, chicken egg or duck egg, salad, starfruit, tomato, watermelon and papaya.

Other than that, Malaysia’s SSR for rice had been decreasing since 2016 (70.3), 2017 (70.0), 2018 (69.0) and down further to 63.0 in 2019.

Other rice-related figures showed fluctuations, with production levels going down from 1,766 tonnes (2016) to 1,656 tonnes (2017), then back up to 1,700 tonnes (2018) and down to 1,516 tonnes (2019); while imports went down from 748 tonnes (2016) to 726 tonnes (2017), then up to 776 tonnes (2018) and 890 tonnes (2019).

Billions on imported food

In the last 10 years, Malaysia exported food worth RM296 billion, but imported food valued at RM482.8 billion.

For 2020, Malaysia exported RM33.8 billion worth of food products, but imported RM55.5 billion of food products.

This means Malaysia is reliant on imports to meet local demand for food items, with the level of reliance for each food item measured through the Import Dependency Ratio (IDR).

The Covid-19 pandemic had affected international trade and supply and demand, with DoSM noting that external trade restriction due to the prolonged pandemic had led to a decline in IDR in 24 out of 45 food items in Malaysia.

In terms of IDR, eight of the 45 food items in 2020 exceed 50 per cent, which shows high reliance on imports, namely cuttlefish (52.2 per cent), fresh milk (53.5 per cent), round cabbage (63.6 per cent), chili (72.4 per cent), beef (78.1 per cent), ginger (81.5 per cent), mango (86.2 per cent), and mutton (90.4 per cent).

This can also be seen in how much Malaysia spent on such imports, with RM2.2 billion worth of beef, RM879.4 million of mutton, RM266.1 million of coconut and RM87.9 million of mango imported to meet domestic demand.

“More than 70.0 per cent of imported mutton was from Australia while mango, coconut and beef were mainly imported from Thailand, Indonesia and India respectively,” DoSM said.

Malaysia also needed to import onion, dairy products, coffee, wheat flour, tea, shallots, potato and cooking oil to meet local demand, with such items accounting for 14.1 per cent of items frequently spent on by households, based on the DoSM’s 2019 Household Expenditure Survey Report for Malaysia.

For these items, the top amount that was imported in 2020 in terms of weight is onion at 436 million tonnes, dairy products at 336.4 million tonnes and coffee at 108.9 million tonnes.

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