Can we have Food Security in Brunei?

Recently, I got engaged in a little, yet very interesting, discussion with Mr. BR about the notion of “food security” in the context of Brunei Darussalam. Interesting because of two reasons. First, food is abundant in Brunei. All you want to eat is available in this country. But Brunei imports most of its food. (Well, I guess most of us know it already). Second, food security is far from being a simple issue.

So, I then looked into statistics to check the source of the food that I eat everyday. And here is what I saw. We import almost all the rice we eat. The bulk of our vegetables are also imported. We also import lots of fruits. Practically, we don’t produce flours that we use to make cakes, noodles, cookies and all the delicacies we eat here. We import sugar. We bring salt from overseas. We bring chilies from neighbouring countries, Although from time to time we still import eggs, but most of the eggs we eat are actually produced locally.

So perhaps it is only natural if some people think: “…hey, we need to produce our food ourselves.....”. But do we really need to produce most of our food ourselves? Here, let me share with you what I think.

On paper, we have two alternative strategies: either we produce our food ourselves, or we continue to rely on import. Producing all the food locally is certainly appealing. And the benefit is perhaps clear to many: we can be food self-sufficient and food secure at the same time. But then: at what cost? When I look around us, really there is no country in this world that produces all their food themselves. Perhaps because they know that the cost of doing so far outweighs its benefit. (Well, some did try to do it. And indeed the cost was enormous: the resulting inefficiency from producing all the food themselves really killed their economy).

On the contrary, the benefit of importing all the food is also clear. The idea of importing is especially attractive to most international economists and traders. Indeed in many cases, international competition helps push the prices of food downwards, and benefit the average households like myself. But such a strategy poses importing countries with dangers. When international market structure in, say, rice or flour or vegetables, change; or when the exporters and middlemen are able to form a cartel and or exercise their power, then it is me, the average household, who will suffer. My kitchen will be exposed to fluctuations in the prices of commodities, with all the consequences.

Since both alternatives have risks, I guess we need to follow a course of strategy that lies somewhere in between those two polars. Let me call it the third strategy. We can start by, first of all, define “the level food self-sufficiency” or "food-security” that we want to have. This means, we need to define more concretely the notion of food-self sufficiency. For example, we should can define the level of “vegetable self-sufficiency” that is considered safe for the country. Whether it would mean 30 percent (of all the vegetables we need in a month should be produced locally), or 40 percent, or even 25 percent, the key is that such a level must be clearly defined and decided. This step should be followed by the next step: to design additional strategies to make up for the difference between what we produce locally and what we consume. Such additional strategies should have elements of the so called “food buffer stock”, food logistics, and investments in selected agricultural subsectors, in order to guarantee that all households are food secured. Lastly, assess as to whether the government budget can afford to finance such strategies in a long term.

Now that we start to touch on so many complex issues, I think I like to stop here…

[Today's entry is written by an expatriate who has been observing us for the last 2 years and who is an expert in his field but he said he would rather remain annonymous and he does not want his field of expertise to be mentioned either. I have persuaded him to write a few more posts as I think we need many more articles from people like him.]


baz said…
being self sufficient is very important- its like having a home, wtih a small garden where u can plant ur own tomatoes, fruits, veggies etc.(which we currently have but its never enough for a big family like ours!!)

however, on a larger scale, nationally, we r doin just that, our main diet is rice and we have "beras tempatan" in which i regularly buy :)

great issue to dicuss for the nation, Mr BR!
Anonymous said…
I agree with the writer that we first need to define the level of “vegetable self-sufficiency” and build on it. Again it depends or whether the government can or willing to invest on it. Like the writer said “Perhaps because they know that the cost of doing so far outweighs its benefit”

But vegetables. How about poultry? Does Brunei have enough to sustain demands of the population? Especially during festive season where consumers usually have to buy them early or risk running out. Can the same assessment be use for poultry? That’s after defining the level of sufficiency then see whether the government is willing to invest on it. Maybe it already has I don’t know. However I believe buy producing all poultry products locally maybe more worthwhile then vegetables. But having said that, we have to define which poultry; chickens, cows, lambs. What about ducks and others? Maybe I need more info on this.

Anyway good topic. Kudos to the writer.
p o t a t o said…
I know of a company who went all the way to China to acquire knowledge of paddy-farming to be applied here in Brunei. A Sino-Bruneian joint venture. But this is old news, even the news of the venture closing down is old news.

I'm not really sure of this, but Geography taught me that Bruneian soil is just not right for farming. Too much clay if I'm not mistaken.

So if we don't have the requirements for self-sufficient farming - the land, the labour, the skills, the capital, we shouldn't start. It's a big risk, and I doubt a lot of private firms would want to invest. Even if it's the government who is investing, will it be worth it?

We have oil & gas. But we've been exporting that since eons ago. I cant think of any assets that Brunei has that is marketable to the world. So far, education comes to mind: make UBD better, Tahfiz for Southeast Asia region, JIS, ISB and Laksamana. But then again, this suggestion has flaws.

We have jungles for trekkers, would be good if Brunei would open up to International Researchers. Eco-tourism would be a good start. But looking at the present eco-tourism climate, what with all the abysmal waterways, that would take awhile.

What I'm saying is, we should depend on what we have, improve it, and sell it to the world. Tangible or otherwise.

Let's not start something we have low potential in. Sayang usin.

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