Region in focus

Dateline Southeast Asia

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Dateline Southeast Asia

Related tags Food security Indonesia

Malaysia dining at top-table of food security

Malaysia is among the almost three-quarters of Asia-Pacific countries to have improved on their provisions for long-term food security, and now joins five other countries from the region at the top table of food secure nations.

Malaysia, which is seeking to escape its “middle-income trap​” and achieve high-income nation status by 2020, came 34 out 109 countries surveyed by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in its latest annual ranking of its Global Food Security Index (GFSI). 

Although it has improved its GFSI score over the last year, Malaysia is still a long way behind neighbour Singapore, which came second to the United States in the table in spite of its size and lack of natural resources.

Australia occupied the ninth spot and New Zealand the thirteenth, while Japan and South Korea placed twenty-first and twenty-sixth respectively.

Elsewhere in the region, China, which has been placing great emphasis on food security over the last couple of years, but which currently has more than 1.3bn mouths to feed, came at 42, ahead of Thailand (52), Vietnam (65), the Philippines (72), Indonesia (74), Myanmar (78) and Cambodia (96).

Overall, 73% of Asia-Pacific countries improved their scores over the last year, with the EIU saying high saving and investment rates, rapid workforce growth, a  growing middle class were each key drivers to progress in the Asia Pacific region.

Middle-income countries are undergoing transformational changes. Upper-middle-income countries have made huge strides in ensuring that food safety-net programmes are comprehensive​,” the GFSI project director Lucy Hurst.

Jokowi’s self-sufficiency dream dashed by rice import rise

In Indonesia, President Joko Widodo’s drive to make the country self-sufficient in rice, among other crops, is running aground as soaring domestic prices and a potentially punishing El Niño could prompt the import of more than 1.6m tonnes this year.

Reuters reported that his nationalistic agriculture programme, which protects domestic farmers by continuing a decades-long ban on private orders from overseas, was hoping to import less than last year’s estimated 1.1m tonnes. 

Critics have jumped on the expectation that Indonesia will buy much more rice than that, with one analyst quoted in the report as calling the government’s policy “irrational”.

Despite its protectionist policies, Indonesia is still one of the world’s biggest grain importers.

Counterfeit rice causing concern as rumours grow

Reports of fake rice that contains potato starch and plastic have been spreading across Southeast Asia, though sightings have been less widespread.

So far, Singaporean authorities have assured residents that it has been actively testing rice imported onto the island since the scare erupted several days ago. 

The fake rice is reported to be made from potatoes, sweet potatoes and synthetic resin that remains firm even once it’s cooked.

Indonesia, where inspectors raided markets in one city today after the fake rice was allegedly found on sale near to Jakarta.

We appeal to the public to stay calm but remain cautious because so far we’ve only found suspected synthetic rice in one place​,” a local official told The Jakarta Post​.

Vietnam and India are also said to have received imports of the so-called rice.

Mondelēz sustainability programme operational in Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo

Mondelēz’s US$400 million Cocoa Life agricultural programme is now operational in Asia’s biggest cocoa producer, Indonesia. By the end of this year will be operating in more than 100 of the countries cocoa communities. 

The global project aims to reach more than 200,000 farmers across six countries as a means to bolster the company’s sustainable cocoa supply. In Indonesia, the organisers anticipate working with 8,000 farmers to develop their agricultural and business skills while “improving cocoa yields, protecting the environment and boosting farmer incomes”.  

"Cocoa Life is taking root in Indonesia because it's focused on farmers," said Andi Sitti Asmayanti, its regional director. "Through this programme, we're empowering farmers to create action plans with their communities and shape the future of cocoa.. to create the kind of communities they want to live in, and inspiring the next generation."

The Indonesian programme is in progress in Sulawesi and Sumatra. 

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