Food security in Malaysia... by Diriba Kumssa

Food security and sustainable development are a high priority for scientists around the globe and this summer a multidisciplinary team from the UK travelled to Malaysia to help build collective research partnerships between various government and non-government organisations (NGOs). Here Diriba Kumssa, a PhD student working on geospatial aspects of food security (pictured right) tells us more about the trip.

The team I'll be travelling with for this one week mission to Malaysia comprised of staff from the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry: including a plant nutritionist (Professor Martin Broadley) and soil chemist (Dr Scott Young) from the University of Nottingham (UoN) and a geochemist from the BGS.

We visited the Crops for the Future Research Centre (CFFRC), which is a non-profit research Organisation that was established in 2011 and currently based at the UoN Malaysia Campus, in Semenyih near to Kuala Lumpur. They presented the activities in their various research programs to provide us with the bird’s eye view of what they are planning to implement both in the short run and long-term. Besides, we visited their ongoing research activities at their research site on Napier grass adaptation and propagation experiment, Bambara ground nut adaptation trials, the research site (geochemical) problems, and substantial idle land under power pylon throughout Malaysia that makes up to 80,000 hectares.
My PhD research is sponsored by the CFFRC and I presented my research progress on spatial aspects of mineral nutrient deficiency in Asia. After discussing outcomes from my research, a research plan was agreed. The future plan included understanding the role of soil geochemistry and land-use in constraining the adoption of underutilized crops, and improving nutritional intake and income.
On 24 April 2014, we visited the Malaysia Rubber Board (MRB) where we were taken to see the International Rubber Products Exhibition Centre (right); The Material Characterization Laboratory; a Jatropha adaptation trial site; Rubber grafting and seedlings nursery (below left); and a rubber plantation, and even engaged in practical rubber tapping sessions! The Material Characterization Unit conducts plant and soil samples analyses for internal and external clients with a standardized equipment, procedure and global recognition from the International Standards Organization.
The MRB Agronomy research staff described ongoing research and extension activities to integrate small holder rubber plantation and crop production to optimize land use and increase farmers’ income per unit area. This is done in two ways: intercropping by making use of the rubber inter row space at the early stage of a future mono-crop rubber plantation establishment before canopy closure (a.k.a., Taungya system); and intercropping by increasing the inter row spacing between rubber trees so that farmers are able to grow some food crops in that space all the time.
Overall, there is a great sense of motivation and fertile ground for collaboration among this group which will span soil geochemistry, agronomy, food security, and human nutrition. I will return to CFFRC Malaysia for a more extended visit later in summer 2014.

by Diriba Kumssa
PhD student Nottingham-BGS Centre for Environmental Geochemistry.