KUALA LUMPUR: DEPUTY Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has called on Asean member countries to work together to increase food production in the region to meet the needs of their booming populations.
Muhyiddin, addressing some 200 Asean delegates representing their ministries of agriculture yesterday, said Asean's food security remained uncertain despite its great economic progress.
"Even when we have achieved economic progress and modernisation today, the future of global and regional agriculture and food scenario is still uncertain. There are still concerns as to whether we can produce enough food for everybody."
He said based on a prediction by the United Nations recently, the world's population would breach the 9.5 billion mark by 2050.
"In Asean, the population would increase by more than 30 per cent, to reach 786 million by the same year."
He said all Asean member countries needed to work towards generating more food and preserve the region's food security.
"Our food security framework has to be based on increased productivity and efficiency in order to produce our own food supply at a sustainable level."
He said climate change posed a big threat to Asean's food security, adding that rising temperatures worldwide would adversely affect agriculture productivity.
He cited a report prepared for the World Bank last year, which predicted that a 4ºC increase in temperature would have devastating effects on food production.
"Many dry regions will be drier... food production will be at increasing risks, leading to high malnutrition rates.
"Simulations by Malaysian scientists showed that an increase of 2ºC in temperature would cause a reduction of about 0.36 metric tonnes per hectare of rice production."
Muhyiddin said this during the opening ceremony of the 35th Asean Ministerial Meeting on Agriculture and Forestry here yesterday.
Present were Thai Deputy Prime Minister Yukol Limlamthong, Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob and his deputy, Datuk Tajuddin Abdul Rahman.
Muhyiddin, who was the agriculture minister from 2004 to 2008, added that rapid globalisation today also affected food production in the region.
"Many agricultural lands have been turned into commercial development, resulting in a reduced number of planting acreage. Such trends, if not monitored with great care, will bring grave repercussions to Asean."
Muhyiddin warned that the region would be more import-reliant for its food should land for agriculture become less productive.
He said Asean member countries should continue conducting extensive research and development on agriculture.
"There are absolutely high numbers of incontestable evidence that high levels of investment into R&D would promote high productivity and ultimately increased economic performance.
"Thus, it is our role as governments to ensure the right balance is struck and restored. I am happy to note that Asean assumes a proactive and leading role to promote agriculture needs and development."