Can Urban Farming be the Solution to Food Insecurity?

by Darya Ebrahimi

One of the issues the world is grappling with is the lack of food security for many communities. Food security is defined as "when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious foods that meet their dietary needs and food preferences for a healthy life". Currently, we can produce enough food to feed the world's population. However, this diminishes with distribution, and the disparity is greatly observed between developed and developing countries. But what may be the root causes of food insecurity? For one, the overpopulation of urban areas -urbanization- led by the migration of people from rural areas to urban areas seeking a better quality of life and work has led to an inrush of city dwellers. As a result, local ecosystems, which are the foundation of health, food production, water and environmental management, are seeing a steady deterioration.


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In the context in which Malaysia is concerned, the country falls short on the level of self-sufficiency in food production while falling behind neighboring countries. This can be attributed to several factors, such as the small percentage of the population's engagement in agriculture. Per the population the restricted local food production may become a contributing factor in the lack of supply to meet demands, presenting a threat to food security.

How can we combat the uncertainty around food production? Urban Farming. A practice also often referred to as "Urban Agriculture" is agricultural practices within cities and urban areas. This includes cultivation, planting, distribution, and food processing within and around the communities. Urban farming subsequently provides the opportunity for communities to build resilience in the face of adversity. It functions as a driving force for communities to recover from unexpected tragedies through community response and preparedness in the short and long term. Furthermore, this practice has previously been proven to increase food sovereignty and security.

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In Malaysia specifically, as the city population increases, the usage of urban farming practices also rises. As a result of the increase in the cost of living and population growth, changes in the lifestyles people lead have pushed the general population to adopt certain urban farming practices to produce their own food supply. This can be viewed as a step towards a more food-secure Malaysia. Currently, the country depends heavily on imports, with self-sufficiency levels for major food groups such as fruits, vegetables and meat standing at 78.4%, 44.9% and 22.9%, respectively. Although Malaysia has managed sufficiently to rely on imports for the most part, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, things came to a halt. Specific communities were significantly affected by the food shortages caused by the pandemic and soon began to accept urban farming as a solution to food security widely. Furthermore, not only does urban farming have social and health benefits, but it works as a form of economic elevation, as the on-demand produce can save money and be sold for financial gain.

According to UNICEF, the pandemic has undoubtedly left many foods insecure, which should be the driving force for implementing Urban Farming activities by government officials. Urban farming will not solely be for local food production but will create job opportunities in the aftermath of the pandemic. Certain government bodies, such as the Agriculture and Food Industry Ministry (PEJANA), have made strides in solidifying urban farming as a norm. They have set a RM 10 million budget under the National Economic Recovery Plan initiative to be given to nearly 800 communities around Malaysia which include 12000 participating urban farmers. Furthermore, the government initiated "The Community Garden Programs” to inspire the population to take up this beneficial form of food production. Although the steps taken so far have been a welcomed change, there is still a long way to go, but where there is will, there is a way.