Is Asia witnessing a rise in “food nationalism”?

Slaughtered chicken at a wet market in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Malaysia said it would cut its chicken exports from early June due to shortages in the country.

Elsewhere in Asia, India has banned wheat exports, while Indonesia has blocked overseas palm oil sales.

It comes as the world faces its worst food crisis in decades following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

An agriculture expert has highlighted concerns about the potential rise of so-called “food nationalism” by governments in the region.

Malaysian buyers have seen chicken prices rise in recent months, while some retailers have limited the amount of meat customers can buy.

On Monday, Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the Southeast Asian country would stop exporting up to 3.6 million chickens every month “until domestic prices and production stabilize. “.

“The government’s priority is our own people,” he said in a statement.

Neighboring Singapore, where Malaysian imports account for around a third of its chicken supply, is expected to be particularly affected by the move.

Almost all birds are imported live before being slaughtered and chilled in Singapore.

Later on Monday, the Singapore Food Agency encouraged shoppers to buy frozen chicken and decided to discourage panic buying.

“While there may be temporary interruptions in chilled chicken supply, frozen chicken options remain available to alleviate the shortfall,” the agency said in a statement. “We also advise consumers to buy only what they need.”

Impact of war

Malaysia’s chicken export ban is the latest development in the global food crisis.

Last month, the World Bank warned that record food price increases could plunging hundreds of millions of people into poverty and undernutrition.

Ukraine is a major wheat exporter and its production has plunged since Russia invaded the country.

This caused a spike in world wheat prices. She also raised the prospect of shortages in countries that depend on her exports.

On Monday, Yuliia Svyrydenko, Ukraine’s first deputy prime minister, told the BBC that the international community should create a “safe passage” to allow millions of tons of grain stuck in Ukraine to leave the country.

Also speaking to BBC economics editor Faisal Islam on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, David Beasley, executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme, called Russia’s blocking of Ukrainian food exports a “statement war on global food security”. .

“We are already facing the worst food crisis since World War II,” he said.

“When you take 400 million people who are fed by the food that comes from Ukraine and you cut that out, and then you add to that fertilizer problems, droughts, food costs, fuel costs, we we are witnessing a hellish storm on earth,” Mr Beasley added.

“Food nationalism” at work?

Wheat prices rose again earlier this month after India banned exports of the staple grain. The Indian government’s decision came after a heatwave in the country sent domestic prices soaring to a record high.

With droughts and floods threatening crops from other major producers, commodity traders expected supplies from India to make up some of Ukraine’s shortfall.

Palm oil prices have also risen in recent weeks when Indonesia, the top producer of the ingredient used in everything from processed foods to soap, halted exports for three weeks to drive down local prices by cooking oil. The ban was lifted on Monday.

These are examples of “food nationalism”, according to Sonia Akter, assistant professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.

“Governments impose such restrictions because they believe they must protect their citizens first,” she said.

“Based on the previous experience of the 2007-2008 food crisis, it is expected that more and more countries will follow suit, which will exacerbate the crisis as well as food price inflation,” he said. she added.

However, Professor William Chen of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore believes the export restrictions are only temporary in nature rather than full-fledged food nationalism.

“Other countries imposed bans on food products but later lifted the ban,” said Chen, director of the university’s food science and technology program.

“It’s a good reflection of the interconnectedness of the food value chain, [where] no country can truly rely on itself for all the food its people need.”

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