Singapore’s de-facto national dish in the crossfire as Malaysia bans chicken exports

Singapore/Kuala Lumpur, June 1 (BNA): Singapore is bracing for a shortage of the de facto national dish, chicken rice, as major supplier Malaysia has halted all chicken exports from Wednesday.

Restaurants and street stalls in the city state face skyrocketing staple food prices or shutting down completely as their supplies dwindle from neighboring Malaysia, where production has been disrupted by a global forage shortage, Reuters reports.

Malaysia’s export ban is the latest sign of a growing global food shortage as countries, reeling from the effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, severe weather and pandemic-related supply disruptions, scramble to shore up domestic supplies and tame food inflation.

Rising prices of basic foodstuffs have already sparked protests in countries such as Argentina, Indonesia, Greece and Iran.

Daniel Tan, owner of a chain of seven kiosks called Ok Chicken Rice, said a Malaysia ban would be “disastrous” for sellers like him.

“The ban means we can no longer sell,” he said. “It’s like McDonald’s without a burger.”

He added that his stalls usually source live birds from Malaysia but that they will have to switch to using frozen chicken during the week and expect a “hard hit to sales” as customers react to the change in the quality of the dish.

Singapore, although among the richest countries in Asia, has a severe urban area of ​​only 730 square kilometers (280 square miles) and is largely dependent on the import of food, energy, and other goods. Almost all chicken is imported: 34% from Malaysia, 49% from Brazil and 12% from the United States, according to data from the Singapore Food Agency (SFA).

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A dish of boiled chicken and white rice cooked in broth served with a side of greens is a dish loved by 5.5 million people in the country, and is usually widely available for around S$4 (US$2.92) in restaurants known as hawker centres.

The SFA said the shortfall could be made up for by frozen chicken from Brazil, and urged consumers to choose other protein sources such as fish.

Malaysia, facing a sharp rise in prices, decided to stop exporting chicken until domestic production and costs stabilize.

Prices since February have been set at 8.90 ringgit ($2.03) per bird and a subsidy of 729.43 million ringgit ($166 million) has been allocated to poultry farmers.

Chicken feed usually consists of grain and soybeans imported from Malaysia. But the government should consider alternatives amid the global feed shortage.

Low-quality feed means the birds are not growing as quickly as usual, slowing down the entire supply chain, said poultry farmer Syazul Abdullah Siamil Zolkavli.

Previously, the broiler farm in Siyazul was able to harvest up to seven times a year, with 45,000 birds harvested per cycle. This year only five harvest cycles are expected.

Syazul, who is starting to feel the pain of rising operating costs during the pandemic, says the export ban will only make matters worse for poultry farmers.

“I don’t know if the industry will support me… for the next five or 10 years,” he said, adding that he would have to owe debt to keep up with costs.

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“Maybe I should go work at a gas station or something better, is less of a headache than actually running a poultry farm.”

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