S’pore expected food supply snags since Covid-19, has been diversifying: PM Lee

Singapore imports more than 90 per cent of its food, and diversification is a key strategy to ensure its food security. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

KIGALI - While the recent trend of countries imposing food export bans is worrying, it is not surprising given the domino effect that the shortage and price spike of feedstock caused by the war in Ukraine has had on products such as poultry, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

As a food importer, this is a problem for Singapore, but one that the Republic had anticipated since the Covid-19 pandemic began, PM Lee told reporters on Saturday.

At the time, the Government was concerned that there would be disruptions to the nation's supplies of poultry, vegetables and carbohydrates.

"We already had begun to build up our stockpiles to a higher level and to diversify our supplies from more places," said Mr Lee, who was speaking to Singapore reporters at the end of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.

Singapore imports more than 90 per cent of its food, and diversification is a key strategy to ensure its food security.

The decision to step up food source diversification is why the Republic today buys chickens from Brazil and eggs from Ukraine and Poland, said Mr Lee.

In recent months, some countries have announced that they were banning food exports, citing disruptions caused by the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

For instance, India announced plans this month to restrict sugar exports to curb a surge in domestic prices, following its decision in May to restrict wheat exports.

Malaysia banned chicken exports on June 1 to stabilise production and prices. This caused Singapore, which imports about a third (34 per cent) of its supply from Malaysia, to see a sharp drop in its supply of fresh chicken in the first two weeks of this month. The ban has since been partially lifted.

"It is not according to the rules of the World Trade Organisation – you are not supposed to close your markets when supplies get short," said Mr Lee. "But under pressure, this is what governments do."

After finding additional sources for chickens and eggs, Singapore is now looking for new sources of vegetables, he added.

"These are things that we have to do, and which we have been doing for some time," he said.

"Which is the reason why, when the supplies of chicken from Malaysia got cut off a few weeks ago, we were able to cope.

"But I think the problem will continue," he added.

More will need to be done, and Mr Lee said the Ministry of Trade and Industry is actively working on this issue now.

At the same time, he urged people in Singapore to understand the situation and be more flexible in their food preferences and habits.

"You can't get kampung chicken, you can get some other chicken. It is not chilled, it is frozen, well, that is not bad too," he said. "And if you can't get one variety of rice, if there is a problem, other varieties will be available."

"If we can be a little bit more flexible in our habits, it will be much easier to go through these difficult times."

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