Can Mat Sabu tackle Malaysia’s food shortages?

Analysts have expressed differing opinions about the performance of Amanah chief Mohamad Sabu since taking over the agriculture and food security portfolio in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim about a month and a half ago. 

Mohamad, popularly known as Mat Sabu, received the lowest marks in a recent Cabinet review, giving rise to questions over his ability to tackle food-related issues in the country. 

He was criticised on social media over problems in the supply of chicken and eggs, which in turn caused a jump in prices. 

Mohamad himself defended his score, describing it as a continuation of the previous government’s performance. 

Adilah Zafirah, an economist from think tank Iris Institute, said the score showed a lack of seriousness about solving the problem at hand. 

“There is a lack of political will,” he told MalaysiaNow on the problems in egg supply. 

“The people, meanwhile, are hard pressed as the problem has continued for months.” 

Adilah said the minister in charge should be academically qualified for the task, with the necessary experience in addition to experience on the ground. 

The minister should also consult experts including academics, industry players and NGOs when forming policies, he said. 

In other countries, he said, agriculture ministers are both academically qualified and in possession of the necessary experience. 

“In Japan, the agriculture minister is a high school graduate but he has experience in farmer cooperatives,” he said. 

“In Canada, the minister has an academic background in economics and environmental management. And in Indonesia and Singapore, the ministers have backgrounds in law and accounting.”    

Nevertheless, he said Mohamad had done well in acknowledging the cause of food security issues including dependence on imports and climate change. 

“And it takes time for the policies implemented to work as planned, and to give rise to the desired outcomes,” he added. 

Mohamad, the Kota Raja MP, was the defence minister during Pakatan Harapan’s first tenure in government after the 2018 general election. 

Since his appointment to Anwar’s Cabinet, he has allowed the import of eggs from India as a means of tackling domestic shortage.

Nurfitri Amir Muhammad, coordinator of the Malaysian Food Security and Sovereignty Forum, said the low score was in fact aimed at the ministry as a whole. 

“The previous ministers appointed to the job didn’t have experience in agriculture either,” he said, citing Salahudin Ayub and Ronald Kiandee.

“It would be unfair to blame the minister for everything as he was only recently appointed to the portfolio.

“The challenge for Mohamad and his ministry now is to fix the situation.” 

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