Singapore can play key role in food technology: Khaw

Singapore may have a small agriculture sector and has to import over 90 per cent of its food, but it can play a role in food security.

Making this point yesterday, Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan said Singapore is keen to share its technology and R&D with other Asean member states.

"Even though the agriculture sector is small in Singapore, we can contribute and play our part in food security," he said at the opening ceremony of the 38th Meeting of the Asean Ministers on Agriculture and Forestry (AMAF) yesterday at Marina Mandarin hotel.

"As an urbanised state, Singapore promotes the development of urban farming solutions and progressive farming technologies."

There is potential for the city-state to be a "living lab" for new food production technologies, Mr Khaw added.

Singapore, for instance, has been developing indoor vertical farms that can produce five times more leafy greens than conventional farming systems.

At the same time, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore is collaborating with A*Star to study whether a novel food packaging material can extend the shelf life of chilled poultry meat.

The annual meeting is where representatives from Asean nations gather to discuss cooperation in food, agriculture and forestry. The last time Singapore chaired the meeting was in 2006.

Yesterday also marked the opening of the 16th meeting of the AMAF Plus Three (China, Japan and South Korea).

Professor Paul Teng, adjunct senior fellow in food security in the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said Singapore can take the lead in using biotechnology to produce new crop varieties that are more weather- and pest-resilient.

And while vertical farming is good to have, it will contribute to only a small part of any country's food security, said Prof Teng.

He added: "Extensive crops like rice, soya beans and maize require large swathes of countryside."

In his speech, Mr Khaw highlighted anti-microbial resistance as an emerging concern which can significantly affect food security and safety as well as the food trade.

Anti-microbial resistance refers to micro-organisms, such as bacteria and fungus, that have become resistant to anti-microbial substances.

Asean ministers yesterday agreed to promote the prudent use of anti-microbials and enhance surveillance and research in this area.

The next AMAF will be held Thailand next year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2016, with the headline 'Singapore can play key role in food technology: Khaw'. Print Edition | Subscribe