Covid-19 Exclusives: Sprucing Up Penang’s Agriculture Sector


IS MALAYSIA’S FOOD security guaranteed for the long term? The World Food Programme predicts that the global undernourishment and hunger will reach 840 million by 2030. And though Malaysia is shown to have an undernourished population of less than 5%, it is surrounded by countries that are plagued with malnutrition, some of which surprisingly contribute to Malaysia’s food security.

The agriculture sector in Penang makes up 2% of the State’s Gross Domestic Product. But as urbanisation gains traction across the State, and land for agriculture is very quickly replaced by blocks of building, the sector’s future in sustaining Penang’s growing population is troubling. The presence of Covid-19 has certainly shown in the months past just how susceptible the food supply chain is to disruptions, not to mention the unreliability and costly nature of imported food and feed in the long run.

Perhaps it is time we focus our energies on reversing the perception that the agricultural sector is antiquated and unprofitable; and on converting vulnerable situations into business opportunities. However, for such an endeavour to flourish, a structured nurturing process should be mapped out with Malaysian youths, which enlists them as agents of change.

Capitalising on urban farming and agricultural businesses, or agri-businesses, by way of online platforms is a viable means of attracting youths into the industry. Identifying the right kind of platforms that align closest to their interests should accelerate participation.

The following are some suggestions to further stoke their interest:

1. Using early childhood education to introduce the basics of agriculture

Children are remarkable at soaking up information from daily experiences and activities. Farming and gardening projects can teach them about cultivation processes, food preparation and the promotion of healthy eating habits. A simple task such as monitoring a plant’s growth can be a fun and exciting experience for children.

2. Agriculture activities at primary and secondary schools and tertiary education institutions

Continuously engaging and involving students in agricultural projects at school enables students to retain interest and understanding, and even change their mind-sets on the importance of agriculture. A noble effort by Persatuan Pelapis Usahawan Tani Lestari (PELAPIS) was the partnership it forged with Jabatan Pendidikan Daerah SPU (Pendidikan), Jabatan Pertanian SPU (Pertanian), and Jabatan Perpaduan & Integrasi Nasional (JPNIN) to provide youths with urban farming practices and small-scale agri-business opportunities.

Similarly, agriculture learning experiences through real or virtual farm visits enable students to apply the knowledge gained in class subjects, including understanding the factors in forecasting future food supply; its availability, traceability, and market; the integration of engineering technology and innovation with agricultural needs; linking the importance of agriculture big data in the supply chain, and in responding to changing consumers demands; as well as generating interactive government policy while keeping alert of the consequences of pandemics and climate change.

Capitalising on urban farming and agricultural businesses... by way of online platforms is a viable means of attracting youths into the industry.

3. Popularising agriculture on social media

If appropriate platforms and applications are introduced and developed to provide means for awareness and guidance, youths will find it easier to replicate, share, adapt and adopt agricultural activities. For example, succulents are now massively popular among millennials. They are affordable and easy to maintain. Perhaps, this popularity can be extended to the growing of peppers (chili), lemongrass, cassava and limes. The chain reaction of this may well address and rectify sustainability concerns, inspire the development of more business opportunities, supplement incomes and lastly, promote the consumption of organic produce.

4. Making mainstream interactive agriculture online games and reality TV shows

Piquing youth interest through entertaining and interactive social media content via online agriculture management games can be useful in educating children about crops, cultivation and manufacturing processes, the commercial market, as well as associated business opportunities. This indirect exposure can excite ideas on how to invest in the agriculture sector as a career option. Aggressive and continuous promotions through sponsored reality TV shows can also encourage a mind-set change if properly implemented and monitored.

5. Agriculture made easy through navigation

Collaboration of local authorities and stakeholders with Google or any related navigation partners and supply encourages new or potential urban farmers to navigate and find the nearest shops and centres to purchase seeds and fertilisers and be advised on agriculture techniques, training, etc. Continuous sharing and promotion such as through PELAPIS fertigation programmes and other related entities or stakeholders can stimulate the demand for the urban farming industry as a popular avenue for a sustainable income source and fresh food supply that is within easy reach.

6. New partnership models and programming modalities in pursuing common goals

The agricultural sector’s overall value chain should be examined from various perspectives, and information should be collected by addressing the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats from cultivation, production, commercialisation, and the market; this data can provide solutions and prospects to many sectors in the long run.

Common goals can be attained with effective integrated partnerships from related industry players and stakeholders. This encompasses the value chain from children’s early education, school programmes and activities, continuous focus on agri-business programmes, virtual agriculture educational experiences, online business platforms and its link to logistics, as well as relentless joint promotions to attract consumer interest, expanding the business market, minimising operation costs, enhancing business opportunities and maximising profits.

Indeed, forming a prospective cohort of farmers and agriculture champions is a tall order. However, fostering dynamic stakeholders in supporting the agriculture industry improves Malaysia’s agricultural image, especially in the eyes of youths and investors. In turn, this can be a motivating factor for young people to become agents of change.

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