Diversification of food sources cannot be only strategy in the face of global disruptions

Singapore has long relied on diversification to keep its people fed and watered, but the pandemic has shown that this alone may not be enough, says Minister for Sustainability Ms Grace Fu. She outlines Singapore's plans to ensure resource resilience.

SINGAPORE - The Republic is stepping up efforts to grow more food locally, with the ongoing pandemic highlighting how diversifying food sources may not be enough to ensure a stable supply.

Plans to bump up local food production continued over the past year, even as the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted global supply chains, said Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment (MSE), in an interview with The Straits Times last week.

"In the past, we always talked about the need to diversify sources. But what if we have shortages from all sources?" said Ms Fu, 56.

This worry had played out here during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. Shoppers rushed to supermarkets and emptied shelves there, fearing a food shortage due to successive lockdowns.

"We had a momentary panic. And that sort of alluded to us the possibility of a global shortage," Ms Fu said.

"Similarly, with climate change and extreme weather, it is conceivable... that we may have a shortage on the global scale if we don't do anything now to arrest that climate change," she added.

Singapore last year set a goal - dubbed 30X30 - to produce 30 per cent of its own food by 2030, up from less than 10 per cent today.

The Government wants farmers to do this by leveraging technology. The pandemic has not set back this goal, with efforts sped up to help local farms ramp up production over the next six to 24 month.

In September, the Singapore Food Agency under Ms Fu's ministry, awarded close to $40 million under its 30X30 express grant to accelerate local food production.

But Ms Fu also stressed that the ministry has a lot on its plate beyond food supply, with pressing issues on everything from water supply to sea-level rise.

Singapore's fourth desalination plant in Marina East began commercial operations in June despite the pandemic, Ms Fu pointed out.

Her ministry is looking at turning waste into a resource by squeezing value from every dreg. Ms Fu said research is being done on how to use incineration bottom ash as construction material.

At the same time, Singapore is preparing to protect itself against sea-level rise and has since 2011 raised the minimum level for newly reclaimed land from 3 to 4 metres, above the mean sea level. Future facilities such as the Changi Airport Terminal 5 and Tuas Terminal mega port will be built even higher - at least 5 metres above mean sea level. "So in this process we're going to need a lot of materials," said Ms Fu.

Singapore's sustainability drive will also create jobs for people, she added.

"As we go through the transition, we build up the capability, there will be competencies that are exportable. I think countries around the world are looking for solutions, we are creating some of the solutions ourselves," she said.

"We hope to commercialise some of them, including services such as energy management systems, and this will all be potential for new jobs... and also new technologies."

She said her ministry also wants to push for the highest standards in the guidelines for green procurement in the civil service.

Given the way things are evolving, she thinks it is fitting that her ministry - previously called Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, was renamed Ministry of Sustainability and Environment.

"All the streams that we are working on, whether it's food, whether it's waste, water or energy, we're looking at looping it, we're looking at how to make more sustainable use of the resource," she said.