Bracing for sugar price hike: Malaysians to swallow a bitter pill for a sweeter future

Letter to editor

WITH rising costs of living continuing to be a burden to the people, it is understandable that citizens would be worried about potential further increases in the price of everyday goods.

Sugar is one such example of this. Recent news reports have indicated that the government might be planning to raise the price of sugar for 1kg packs. In response, netizens appeared to raise concerns as to whether this would significantly add to already bourgeoning living expenses.

The frustration is understandable considering that sugar is such a common commodity both in households and among traders. But there are good reasons in favour of raising the price of sugar.

Firstly, the excessive consumption of sugar is simply unhealthy. It is well established that high sugar consumption is a key contributor to serious non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and obesity.

According to the National Diabetes Institute (NADI), Malaysia currently ranks as the country with the highest prevalence of diabetes in Asia while the World Obesity Atlas 2023 ranks us as the most obese Southeast Asian nation – not a first place to be proud of.

With our culture of late-night mamak sessions and a plethora of sweet drinks and food all around us, there is little room for doubt to point to sugar as being a key contributor to our worrying health statistics.

According to the United Nations’ (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Malaysia’s sugar consumption per capita reached 43kg in 2021. At an average of 118g daily, this is almost five times more than the World Health Organization (WHO)’s recommended per capita intake of 25g daily or 9.1kg per year.

A packed mamak eatery with inevitable free flow of sugary beverages (Pic credit: SGMYTravel)

Towards healthier Malaysia

Retrospectively, we must ask ourselves why we subject ourselves to this excess if we know that it is bad for our health. Yes, one may argue that we partake in mamak sessions, pasar malam and food bazaars because they are an indispensable part of our culture. But it also boils down to the fact that these foods tend to be affordable.

At a ceiling rate of RM2.85/kg for coarse sugar and RM2.95/kg for refined sugar, our sugar prices are the lowest among fellow Southeast Asian nations. This should not be the case as low sugar prices means that it is more affordable for the masses, hence we are consequently more likely to over-consume it.

While it is ultimately up to consumer choice, the government can play a role in encouraging reduced sugar consumption by raising the sugar price ceiling.

This is not to say that the government should raise sugar prices to beyond the average consumer’s reach. But even a small hike in the price of sugar – while not likely to create a huge impact on overall expenses, should be a wake-up call for us to reflect on our sugar consumption and put our health first.

Secondly, on the issue of rising costs of living, raising the ceiling price of sugar may actually be better for long-term affordability of the commodity.

Source credit: LITE Malaysia

If Malaysia’s sugar prices remain too low, producers will continue to sell at a loss. The result would be a potential disruption in the local sugar supply chain – forcing consumers to potentially need to buy imported sugar at a higher cost especially during periods of high demand.

Conversely, raising the price of sugar will allow producers to sustain production while ensuring adequate supply in the local market. Neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Indonesia have already increased sugar prices to overcome higher costs of raw sugar imports and utilities, thus ensuring that their domestic market is secure.

Paradoxically, a rise in sugar prices now can help ensure its long-term affordability and availability.

Price hikes are always a bitter pill to swallow – but in the case of sugar it may just be the sweeter option for all in the long-run. – Feb 29, 2024


Joseph Hong

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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