The move by Malaysia has surprised Singapore, which relies heavily on its neighbour for a large amount of its food imports, including a third of its chicken
The move by Malaysia has surprised Singapore, which relies heavily on its neighbour for a large amount of its food imports, including a third of its chicken AFP / Mohd RASFAN

From the ubiquitous chicken rice sold in Singapore by hawkers to luxury hotels, every eatery is hit because of the ban imposed by neighboring Malaysia, from where the city-state gets more than a third of its supply.

Singapore imports almost 73,000 tonnes of chicken from Malaysia annually. According to the Singapore Food Agency, chicken is the most widely consumed meat with 36kg per capita consumption since 2020, followed by seafood.

Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on May 23 that the Southeast nation was planning to ban, beginning June 1, the export of 3.6 million chickens a month until domestic prices stabilize.

The ban covers live poultry, whole carcasses, chicken nuggets, patties, sausages, chilled and frozen meat, chicken parts, and chicken-based products, the Ministry of Agriculture has said.

Malaysia's ban comes as nations struggle with soaring food prices, fueled by the conflict in East Europe involving the world's major producers of grains, and other supply-related restrictions.

Ukraine is the global source of corn and grains that are used as components of chicken feed. Russia, which is invading Ukraine, is the second-largest producer of wheat, which is also used for making chicken feed.

Before Malaysia, India moved to protect its markets by imposing curbs on the export of sugar and wheat and Indonesia, the world's biggest supplier of palm oil, temporarily halted overseas palm oil sales. Serbia and Kazakhstan have imposed quotas on grain shipments.

Despite the capacity to produce chickens to self-sufficiency levels, Malaysia is facing a severe shortage, mainly due to its dependence on imports of feed whose prices have gone through the roof in recent months.

Chickens in Malaysia are eating less and growing slower than normal, which, in turn, hits the availability of the birds.

According to statistics, Malaysia exported 59.08 million live birds in 2020. As prices soared, poultry farmers in Malaysia stopped production, while others increased prices despite a government cap on price hikes.

Malaysia has offered soaps to farmers who are hit by the rising cost of chicken feed as the current government which came to power in August last year will have to face a general election next year. However, the government has not clearly stated how long the ban will last.

Due to a weakening Malaysian currency, the government is also trying to encourage rubber farmers to grow corn to reduce the country's dependence on imported animal feed.

Apart from chicken, the supply of fish in Malaysia has fallen by 70 percent due to inclement weather conditions. The National Fishermen's Association (Nekmat) said that small-sized mackerels are sold at RM12 to RM14 (S$3.80 to S$4.40) per kilogram compared with RM3 ($0.68) to RM4 ($0.91) earlier.

Chickens are imported live from Malaysia to Singapore, where they are slaughtered before being chilled.

Chicken sellers in Singapore say that the cost of chilled chicken could increase by 30 percent, which will make the beloved de-facto national dish, chicken and rice, dearer. The prices of special cuts such as thigh and breast have already hiked by S$1.20 per kg.

The Singapore government has asked consumers to look for alternative meats while the authorities are exploring new markets for fresh chicken.

As the Singapore Food Agency encouraged, a few chicken rice sellers are planning to sell frozen chicken imported from countries like Brazil, while others have adopted a wait-and-watch approach.

Will the Malaysian ban help the city-state speed up its "30 by 30" target to produce 30 percent of its nutritional needs domestically by 2030?