Singapore tops global index on food security, but climate change may affect food supply

The Global Food Security Index puts Singapore at No. 1, a jump of three places from last year and the first time it has topped the ranking since the listing was started in 2012.
The Global Food Security Index puts Singapore at No. 1, a jump of three places from last year and the first time it has topped the ranking since the listing was started in 2012.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Singapore is top in the world when it comes to ensuring that its citizens have access to safe and nutritious food at affordable prices in the short and long term.

However, given that Singapore imports most of its food, climate change could still disrupt its food security depending on how badly other food-producing countries are hit.

The Global Food Security Index (GFSI) released on Tuesday (Oct 16) puts Singapore at No. 1, a jump of three places from last year and the first time it has topped the ranking since the listing of 113 countries was started in 2012 by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

Second on the list is Ireland, with the United Kingdom and the United States in joint third.

The 113 countries were selected based on regional diversity, economic importance and population size. They were assessed on four categories - affordability, availability, quality and safety, and natural resources and resilience, which is "the ability to bounce back from a shock or disaster, ideally better off than before".

Singapore's high score was largely due to its strength in the affordability component of the index.

It is a high-income economy, with the report noting that its gross domestic product per capita has risen nearly 30 per cent since 2012, the year the GFSI was first published.

It also has the lowest tariffs on agriculture imports among all the countries in the index, which helps to reduce the overall cost of importing food.

However, the report noted that Singapore's food security is the most susceptible to climate and natural resource risks, with the import-dependent country facing potential disruptions to its food supply.

The risks include exposure to climate changes, such as a rise in temperature, drought and flooding, and the health of land and water resources.

When those risks are taken into account, Singapore ranks 16th among the 113 countries, with Switzerland in top spot.

Singapore depends heavily on food imports, with over 90 per cent of food brought in from overseas, according to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) website.

Only a small amount of food is produced locally - 8 per cent of vegetables, 8 per cent of fish and 26 per cent of eggs.

An AVA spokesman told The Straits Times that Singapore's food security is vulnerable to global driving forces and trends, such as population growth, rising urbanisation and incomes, climate change, disease outbreaks and scarcity of resources.

"These trends are intensifying, and their interplay is heightening food security challenges more than ever," the spokesman said.

The agency has diversified import sources from 140 countries in 2004 to 180 last year.

It helps local farmers through the $63 million Agriculture Productivity Fund (APF) to boost production capabilities, and appoints to each farm an account manager from AVA to advise farmers on technology adoption and such areas as business development.

"We have organised technology-sourcing trips for farmers to learn from other countries such as Israel, the Netherlands, China and Japan, and technology-matching sessions where farmers can meet solution providers and technology developers," said the spokesman.

It also encourages agricultural players to expand to other countries, from where the produce can be exported back to Singapore, thereby strengthening food security.

  • Top 10 of GFSI 2018 (scores are out of 100)

  • 1. Singapore, 85.9

    2. Ireland, 85.5

    3. United Kingdom, 85.0

    3. United States, 85.0

    5. Netherlands, 84.7

    6. Australia, 83.7

    7. Switzerland, 83.5

    8. Finland, 83.3

    9. Canada, 83.2

    10. France, 82.9

AVA also participates in global and regional forums to keep up to date on measures to ensure food security.

"This helps Singapore better anticipate potential supply disruptions and strengthen our preparedness for food-related crises," said the spokesman.

Despite the risks to the climate and natural resources which may disrupt trade routes and supply chains, Singapore is well placed to face them because of its financial strength.

Along with the Gulf states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Singapore has a smaller proportion of its population living below the poverty line, compared to the other countries in the index.

This makes it "more financially resilient when global prices skyrocket", noted the GFSI report.

On the whole, the global food security outlook has improved, with over 70 per cent of countries improving their scores from last year. Lower-middle-income and low-income countries made the most substantial gains, according to the report.

Singapore's jump in the global food security rankings comes ahead of the introduction of a new agency focusing on food safety and security here, on April 1 next year.

The Singapore Food Agency (SFA), which will take over food-related work currently done by the AVA, National Environment Agency and Health Sciences Authority, is expected to boost food safety standards for consumers and strengthen local food businesses.