Do more to ensure Singapore's food security

In recent years, Singaporeans have borne the brunt of significant swings in food prices, underscoring the importance of national food security (Giving food security a bit of a boost; May 19).

In a recent United Nations ranking of sovereign countries based on arable land per capita, Singapore ranked last.

While it is, of course, unrealistic to expect a land-scarce city-state to devote large swathes for farming, Singapore veers too far in the other direction.

Less than 1 per cent of Singapore's land is set aside for agriculture, while the vast majority of overall demand is met by an unhealthy dependency on imported foodstuffs.

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In times of natural disaster, when staple crops are wiped out, or in the event of political crises that threaten international supply lines, we can rely for only so long on alternative sources, stockpiling, and rationing to feed six million hungry mouths.

It would, therefore, be prudent for our nation to invest in food production - an industry which we have neglected for far too long - by leveraging our traditional strengths in technology, innovation and state-directed enterprise.

To create the space that is required for farming, we could consider employing a vertical growth strategy (Vertical growth is where S'pore's future lies; May 19).

Other alternatives include land reclamation on offshore islands, or large floating platforms.

To encourage businesses to enter the fray, agricultural ventures should enjoy special concessions, such as more favourable terms of lease, and subsidised utility bills.

Above all, we must nurture a generation of specialists who are willing and able to take up roles in this key industry.

In addition to equipping them with the requisite technical expertise, we must also address the social stigma surrounding jobs in this industry.

Members of the pioneer generation, including myself, lived through the Japanese Occupation, when food supplies were gravely disrupted and families barely subsisted on a meagre diet of tapioca and diluted porridge.

Our "smart nation" of the future should be able to guard itself against a similar fate.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 05, 2017, with the headline 'Do more to ensure Singapore's food security'. Print Edition | Subscribe