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  • Writer's pictureBait Al-Amanah

Menu Rahmah Has Been Helpful, But What’s Next?

By Humaira Shafril , Research Assistant at Bait Al Amanah

A NOURISHING MEAL might appear routine for most people in Malaysia, but not so for marginalised individuals.

With the Poverty Line Income (PLI) in the country soaring from RM1,198 in 2019 to a staggering RM2,589 in 2022, it was evident that the government needed to do something to ensure food on the table for the most vulnerable.

The Menu Rahmah Programme was thus introduced earlier this year. Led by the late Salahuddin Ayub, this initiative by the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Cost of Living, in collaboration with strategic partners, aims to alleviate the cost of living, particularly for the B40 in Malaysia. Participating food and beverage (F&B) operators have committed to providing daily meals, either lunch or dinner, at a price not exceeding RM5 per meal. These meals typically include a protein source like chicken or fish, and some vegetables.

One of those who have benefitted from the Menu Rahmah initiative is Siti*. Coming from the B40 group, her mother juggles two jobs to make ends meet. Siti and her family usually navigate their meals within a very modest budget. However, since the introduction of Menu Rahmah, they have enjoyed affordable meals, and have had the chance to explore various restaurants and stalls previously priced beyond their budget. “It’s fantastic because you can savour a variety of dishes, and the portion sizes are quite generous. In the past, my family and I could only afford limited meals, often resulting in repetitive dishes every few days,” she shares.

Siti’s experience underscores how the Menu Rahmah Programme alleviates financial burden and also fosters inclusivity for individuals from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, allowing them to dine at participating restaurants. This initiative holds particular significance as the Malaysian government has faced challenges in effectively targeting specific groups needing assistance. Even the often-overlooked M40 groups and budget-conscious university students can now partake in this initiative, echoing the sentiment of the late Salahuddin Ayub that “No one will be left behind.”

Initially driven by private enterprises and launched without government funding, the Menu Rahmah Programme has meant huge costs for them. However, the main worry now lies in how small-scale vendors and micro-enterprises will be affected. As ingredient prices rise, chain F&B establishments might be able to weather the losses; small vendors will most likely not be able to manage. Moreover, the market dominance of industry giants such as fast food giants potentially overshadows smaller businesses, significantly reducing their market demand.

Although the government has committed to this programme for the coming year, challenges persist. Given the history of a similar initiative, Menu 1Malaysia, and its inability to sustain itself, the government needs to find a way to ensure the continuity of the Menu Rahmah Programme.I recommend the digitalisation of Menu Rahmah through a mobile application. Reports from February hinted at the development of such an app, but updates have yet to surface since. The app is envisioned as a comprehensive tool, by not only listing locations offering Menu Rahmah meals but, more importantly, by collecting data on the success factors and challenges faced by each participant. This process can enhance knowledge management within the food industry and provide accurate data on the pain points of different locations and regions nationwide, allowing adjustments for a more balanced market presence. For example, restaurants can concentrate on urban areas with high consumer traffic, while smaller vendors can cater to communities and regions with limited access to affordable meals.

Having such information will also empower other initiatives aimed at feeding the needy, particularly the establishment of soup kitchens. Notable examples such as Kechara Soup Kitchen and Pertubuhan Tindakan Wanita Islam (PERTIWI) operate across various urban areas in Malaysia, providing free meals to those in need, especially individuals who are homeless or experiencing financial hardship.

Furthermore, food banks, including The Lost Food Project, Mutiara Food Bank and The Food Bank Malaysia (PFBM), play a pivotal role in ensuring that an array of food items, including non-perishable goods, fresh produce and other essential items, remain readily available to those in need.

Certainly, such efforts to provide meals for the underprivileged are commendable. However, it is crucial to strike a balance between immediate relief and the cultivation of sustainable economic development. Such initiatives must not merely serve as temporary stopgaps but act as stepping stones toward fostering long-term economic empowerment and self-sufficiency within vulnerable communities.

*This article was published in 14 December2023.

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