Ensure food supply stays resilient, says Masagos

Dr Wilson Wong (at left), deputy director of Jurong Lake Gardens, speaking to Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor and other guests on a tour of a communi
Dr Wilson Wong (at left), deputy director of Jurong Lake Gardens, speaking to Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor and other guests on a tour of a community garden at Jurong Lake Gardens yesterday. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Climate change a challenge to future supply, he says, in urging shift towards local produce

There is no risk of Singapore running out of essential food and household items even though it relies heavily on imports, but food security cannot be taken for granted, said Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli.

Climate change is one factor that will seriously challenge the nation's food supply strategy, he said yesterday, citing erratic weather, changes in crop growth patterns and water shortages around the world.

Natural and man-made disasters, as well as population growth, will increase stress on demand for food globally, at a time when crop yields are projected to decline, he added.

"This is why Singapore cannot take food security for granted, nor can we rely on the same old game plan," he said at the Jurong Lake Gardens' Gardenhouse at the launch of the Singapore Food Story, which outlines Singapore's strategies in ensuring its food security.

The country has proven resilient to short-term supply disruptions because of astute planning and the connectivity of its transport network, he said.

"That is why, when some Singaporeans started buying up food last Friday, and photos of empty supermarket shelves were circulated, we were able to say with full confidence that there is enough food for everyone," he said.

He was referring to news of Singaporeans' panic buying of rice, instant noodles and other items after the country raised its response level to the coronavirus outbreak that started in China.

Climate change, however, requires Singapore to "game change" food security, he added.

Last year, Singapore emerged tops for the second year running in the Economist Intelligence Unit's Global Food Security Index, which assessed if people have access to affordable, quality food to meet their nutritional needs.

But when climate-related and natural resource risk factors were taken into account, Singapore fell to 12th spot - partly because it imports over 90 per cent of its food, making it susceptible to global supply shocks due to natural calamities.

Mr Masagos pointed out that apart from diversifying Singapore's food import sources and encouraging companies to venture abroad, growing more food locally is also critical in ensuring the nation's food security, drawing a parallel with Newater and describing it as an important factor in Singapore's pursuit of a resilient water supply.

Using less than 1 per cent of Singapore's land area to meet the "30 by 30" goal - to grow enough food locally to meet 30 per cent of Singapore's nutritional needs by 2030 - will be challenging, said the minister.

WORK TOGETHER

Just like what we have done for water, we can overcome our food challenge by planning and investing for the long term and working together as a nation. Just like water, the technology we use for food security will also enable our companies to grow overseas with our unique value proposition.

ENVIRONMENT AND WATER RESOURCES MINISTER MASAGOS ZULKIFLI, drawing a parallel with Singapore's pursuit of water resilience in stressing the importance of ensuring food security for the country.

But if successful, the technologies and unique processes developed in pursuing this goal will provide added value that local companies can offer when growing food overseas, he said.

About $38 million from the Agriculture Productivity Fund has been pumped into more than 100 farms here to develop automated and climate control functions, helping to double average productivity levels to about 200 tonnes per hectare per year for vegetable farmers here.

Farms in land-scarce Singapore have also ventured into high-rise production, with local company Apollo building a new eight-tier fish farm in Lim Chu Kang.

 
 
 

Mr Masagos said food production is a promising area in which local researchers and start-ups can provide new opportunities and jobs for Singaporeans.

Last year, the National Research Foundation committed $144 million to fund agri-food research under the Singapore Food Story Research and Development Programme.

Singaporeans, as consumers, can do their part by supporting local produce, the minister said. "Local produce is grown close to home, and it's actually at home. It is therefore safer, fresher and lasts longer."

The Singapore Food Agency has developed a new local produce label to replace the old one, to help consumers identify local produce more easily. The new label will be seen on local produce on supermarket shelves from August.

Said Mr Masagos: "Food security is an existential challenge for Singapore. But it also offers many exciting opportunities for Singapore and we can create many good and green jobs for Singaporeans.

"Just like what we have done for water, we can overcome our food challenge by planning and investing for the long term and working together as a nation," he said. "Just like water, the technology we use for food security will also enable our companies to grow overseas with our unique value proposition."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2020, with the headline 'Ensure food supply stays resilient, says Masagos'. Print Edition | Subscribe