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Potential Effects of Modern Agricultural Biotechnology on Biodiversity in Malaysia

Written by Chubashini Suntharalingam, SoGES 2013-2014 Sustainability Leadership Fellow, and PhD Candidate in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Graduate Degree Program in Ecology

Malaysia is moving from a manufacturing-based economy to one that is service-oriented, with a vision of becoming a developed knowledge economy by 2020. In doing so, biotechnology has been positioned as a new key engine of growth by policymakers (MOSTI, 2005). There are a couple of strategic reasons for this. Malaysia is rich in biodiversity and has been identified as one of the twelve mega-diversity countries in the world, which together comprise 70% of the world’s species diversity, (Polski, 2005; Krishnapillay et al., 2003) a source of natural capital which can be utilized in developing many biotechnology products of the future.

Second, the Malaysian agriculture sector is important both for contribution to GDP and for food production. In terms of GDP, the agriculture sector contributed approximately USD 17 billion, which is 7.6% of total GDP in 2011 (EPU, 2011).

Yet, in terms of food production, Malaysia does not have self-sufficiency for major food commodities such as rice (72%), vegetables (44%), fruits (66%), beef (29%), mutton (11%) and milk (5%) (MOA, 2012). There are concerns that in recent years, growth in agricultural productivity has been slowing in several key commodities globally (Hossain, 2007). In coming years, climate change, limited fertile lands and, emerging pests and diseases are expected to pose additional challenges to Malaysian agriculture (Jaganath and Bakar, 2012). While Malaysia is not currently facing any food security crisis, researchers from the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI) have identified transgenic crops to play a significant role in helping to solve some of these problems, increase food output by using fewer resources as well as to enhance nutritional and therapeutic content, taste and quality of some of these crops in Malaysia (Jaganath and Bakar, 2012; The Sun Daily, 2012).

Endowed with such a wealth of natural biodiversity and an agricultural sector with much unrealized potential, the development of agricultural applications of biotechnology, in particular have been proposed as a way to transform and enhance value creation of the agricultural sector.

However, while biotechnology is anticipated to drive innovation, and thus economic development, in Malaysia, the policy framework is not in place to achieve this agenda. One of the biggest impediments being voiced to the development of transgenic varieties in Malaysia are environmental concerns over the potential impact of transgenic crops on Malaysia’s wealth of natural biodiversity. These concerns, and the resulting policy stalemate, have resulted in no commercial release of transgenic crops in Malaysia to date. The national policy regime, it seems, is not fully in line with stated economic development goals.

Hence, I am planning on identifying potential environmental effects that transgenic crops might have on natural biodiversity, in order to assist policy makers make science based decisions on regulations concerning the interaction between transgenic crops and Malaysia’s biodiversity.

EPU (Economic Planning Unit, Malaysia). 2012. The Malaysian Economy in Figures 2012. Prime Minister’s Department, Putrajaya.

Hossain, M. 2007. “Technological Progress for Sustaining Food-Population Balance: Achievement and Challenges.” Agricultural Economics 37: 161-172

Jaganath, I. B., and U. K. A. Bakar. 2012. “GM Technology to Address Food Security and Climate Change.” Paper presented at Workshop by the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute and Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre on GM Technology for Ensuring Food Security, Health and

Environmental Sustainability, Serdang, Malaysia, 24 September.
Krishnapillay, B., M. I. Adenan, A.R. M. Ali, and S. Nimura. 2003.”Tropical Rainforest: A Cradle for Biological Resources and the Malaysian Policies on CBD.” Actinomycetologica 17(2): 50-53.

MOA (Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry, Malaysia). 2012. Agrofood Statistics 2011. Strategic Planning and International Division. Putrajaya, Malaysia.

MOSTI (Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, Malaysia). 2005. National Biotechnology Policy. Putrajaya, Malaysia.

Polski, M. 2005. “The Institutional Economics of Biodiversity, Biological Materials, and Bioprospecting.” Ecological Economics 53: 543-557.

The Sun Daily. 2012. GM crops to boost Malaysia’s food security. Accessed on October 31, 2012.


Rafflesia flower. The flower may be over 100 centimetres
(39 in) in diameter, and weigh up to 10 kilograms (22 lb).

Orangutan – Native species to Malaysia



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