How Will COVID-19 Impact Singapore’s Food Security?
COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on families around the world, as well as the world’s economies, healthcare systems, and food security.
As life transitions to a new normal, many people can’t help but notice there have been significant changes to our daily lives. It could be as obvious as riding on a much less crowded form of public transport, or finding that what you need in the store is no longer available. Over the last few months, we have witnessed how the uncertainty and fear of the situation triggered ‘short-term’ effects on human behaviours, resulting in panic buying and the hoarding of food and household necessities.
This brings us to the longer-term effect of the pandemic itself – the ability to access food, or specific types of food. With much of the world relying on food trade with other countries, the closing of borders and ceasing of trade have been truly detrimental for countries and businesses that rely on these imports and exports. Farmers, retailers, and traders have seen either a complete stop in business or have had to drastically change the way they operate in a short amount of time due to the various restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the virus.
In light of this, it’s no surprise that Singaporeans are concerned about the short- and longer-term ramifications of COVID-19 on our food security. A lot of questions have arisen. Will our food sources and consumer practices need to be changed as we adapt to a new normal? Or will food trade return to the way things were before COVID-19’s entry into the world?
What are the Key Pillars of Food Security?
And How Food Secure is Singapore?
Food security is a measure of the availability of food and an individual’s ability to access it. The way this is ascertained is by taking into account the three core pillars of food security: availability, affordability, and quality & safety.
In June 2020, the Global Food Security Index (GFSI) 2019 Asia Pacific regional report was released, identifying Singapore as the most food secure country in Asia Pacific, and the world.
This is great news for Singapore! However, we can’t take our food security for granted, especially when over 90% of our food are imported. It is critical that Singapore remains food secure and avoids the issues and challenges that some other countries are struggling with, such as disruptions to supply chains and local food production. Otherwise, Singapore’s food security could be in jeopardy too!
What Opportunities & Considerations Exist for Singapore’s Food Security?
Singapore is home to 5.7 million people, residing on 720 square kilometres of land. We produce less than 10 percent of our food requirements, as our food security challenge is inextricably linked to the bigger issue of land scarcity. We look at how new farming technologies and innovations are creating new possibilities, and how consumers and the government have important roles to play in strengthening Singapore’s food security.
Increasing Food Production Capacity Using Alternative Farming Methods
To safeguard against supply chain disruptions, the Singapore government has set a ’30 by 30’ vision for Singapore to produce 30% of our nutritional needs by 2030. With less than one percent of Singapore’s land allocated to farming in land-scarce Singapore, achieving this goal will involve developing and implementing innovative non-traditional farming methods.
Alternative farming methods – including rooftop, vertical, indoor, and high-tech farming – are increasingly playing a key role in boosting our levels of local production and increasing Singapore’s overall food security. Hydroponic and aquaponic technologies, which do not require the use of soil to grow produce, have made it possible for farmers to use the roofs of car parks, space-saving vertical growing racks, and indoor spaces housed in existing buildings, for farming.
In May 2020, a tender was put up by Singapore Food Agency (SFA) for vegetables and other crops to be grown on the rooftops of nine public housing multi-storey car parks. This followed the successful introduction of commercial rooftop farming by ComCrop, which now operates a rooftop farm in Woodlands Industrial Estate and sells its leafy greens at FairPrice Finest supermarkets and e-SG Farmers’ Market on RedMart.
A Greater Push for More Sustainable At-Home and Consumer Practices
For Singaporeans to feel more food secure, everyone has to play their part. Adopting and maintaining more sustainable food practices may not come naturally to everyone initially, but with some effort, can become one of the simplest ways to contribute to a food secure future.
One way to do this is to buy cultivation kits (often available at our farmers’ markets), and try your hand at growing your own edible crops in your very own little household ‘farm’ using whatever space you have available. Joining community farms, which allow groups of locals to come together to grow crops in shared spaces, is another way to drive sustainable food practices within the community. Growing your own edible crops will help you appreciate food more and waste less. Many who engage in this practice find it a satisfying ‘hobby’ as you can watch the fruit of your labour grow into a bountiful crop. Moreover, what comes with time is a new appreciation for our local farmers, who work hard to contribute to our food security every day.
Supporting Singapore’s farmers by buying locally-farmed produce at our farmers’ markets, supermarkets, and online stores, are easy commitments that each and every Singaporean can make.
Growing your own food and supporting local farms when you shop for groceries are both parts of a bigger behavioural shift that the Singaporean community needs to go through in order to enable local farmers to grow more of the food we need to boost our food security.
Joint Ministerial Statement on Commitment to Maintaining Open Supply Chains
Singapore’s current good standing for food security is a goal we all need to work towards to ensure it remains at a high level.
In March 2020, Singapore and six other countries issued a joint ministerial statement on their commitment to uphold trade connectivity amid the COVID-19 pandemic to facilitate the flow of goods.
While food imports are a key part of the government’s overall strategy, it’s important to keep local production at the top of our minds. We need to start implementing more sustainable practices now, and maintain them even after lockdown restrictions ease and more businesses and borders re-open.
Increasing production at local farms and encouraging more consumers to choose local produce over imported produce are processes that will take time to come to fruition. But with the right support and sustained effort from everyone, we can make our fresh food supply more resilient in the long-run and become less reliant on imports overall.
Support Singapore’s Food Security
There’s never been a better time to buy Singapore-farmed produce. Support local produce, and be a part of a more food secure, self-sufficient, and sustainable Singapore.
Shop at e-SG Farmers’ Market today!
How Buying Local Produce Supports Singapore’s Future
Fresh produce that are grown in Singapore have to meet strict farming standards set by the government. Singapore has around 200 farms producing eggs, vegetables, and fish. More and more of these producers are now applying agriculture technology to increase the production of fresh, nutritious and safe food for the residents of Singapore.
In the face of uncertainties like climate change and pandemics which can disrupt global food supply, buying local produce can bring significant benefits. These benefits impact you, Singapore as a nation, and even the planet as a whole. With this in mind, we look at how something as simple as supporting Singapore’s local produce can have far-reaching positive impacts.
4 Reasons to Buy Local Produce
Local produce are fresher, more nutritious and safe. Choosing locally-farmed produce is also more sustainable as it reduces your impact on the environment, and supports our food security and economy.
1. Fresh, Nutritious & Safe
Compared with imported produce, local produce are fresher and more nutritious. Fresh produce start losing nutrients as soon as they are harvested. As Singapore-farmed produce arrive at local retail outlets more quickly, they retain higher levels of freshness and nutrients.
Local produce are also safe to consume. As Singapore has stringent farming regulations for local produce, the locally-farmed eggs, vegetables and fish you buy have controlled quantities of agricultural chemicals like pesticides and fungicides, and any contamination is easily traceable. This gives you extra peace of mind when it comes to food safety.
Additionally, Singapore Food Agency (SFA) has put in place quality assurance schemes like the Singapore Quality Egg Scheme, Good Agricultural Practice for Vegetable Farming, and Good Aquaculture Practices for Fish Farming. These schemes are marks of food safety and quality as SFA conducts monthly inspections on farms under these schemes to ensure that the produce meet the strict standards spelt out in the schemes. So, for the best quality assurance, choose local produce certified under these schemes when grocery-shopping.
2. Less Wastage
The true cost of food includes the often invisible environmental and social impacts of food that travel long distances and require resources like transport and storage space. Since local produce travel shorter distances to get to you, they are more sustainable. They also stay fresher and remain edible for a longer period of time. This results in less wastage.
3. More Eco-Friendly
You might associate going green with driving an electric car and flying less. However, your choice of food can also help you go green. Locally-produced vegetables, fish and eggs are greener as these produce use less fuel and other resources when getting from farm to you, resulting in:
- Less greenhouse gas emissions – Food currently accounts for over 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions. You can do your part in lowering transport-related emissions by choosing local. Opting for local produce also means less energy expended for storage.
- Less water and land use – Agriculture uses 70% of global freshwater withdrawals and half of the world’s habitable land. Choosing local can reduce wastage and support more efficient food production due to the increasing use of agriculture technology by local farms to optimise resources in land-scarce Singapore.
A truly sustainable food system is one that supports local farmers, while conserving natural resources for future generations.
4. Better for Singapore’s Food Security
Buying local produce also enhances food supply resilience for Singapore. Currently, Singapore produces less than 10% of its food. It aims to produce as much as 30% of its nutritional needs within a decade as factors like climate change can disrupt Singapore’s access to imported food. To create a buffer against supply chain disruptions and volatile food prices, Singapore needs local farmers to ramp up production and consumers to support locally-farmed produce.
So, how do you make sure you are buying locally-grown produce to support our food security and economy? Look for the “SG Fresh Produce” logo on product packaging or check for labelling such as “Country of Origin: Singapore”. Alternatively, simply shop at e-SG Farmers’ Market for Singapore-farmed produce.
Support Singapore-Farmed Produce
When you choose Singapore-farmed produce, you are assured of quality produce that is fresh, nutritious and safe. In addition, buying local enhances sustainability and lowers your household’s environmental footprint.
More importantly, supporting local produce means contributing to a more resilient and self-sufficient food supply for Singapore. Disruptive trends like climate change can threaten global food supply chains, so greater self-sufficiency will give us better protection against these supply shocks and related price volatility in the future.
Make a difference by choosing local today!
Singapore’s Farmers: Going High-Tech to Boost Our Food Security
Singapore’s total area measures only 724 square kilometres, but it is already an up-and-coming urban agriculture technology hub. Singapore’s farming sector is embracing sophisticated agriculture technology (agritech) for greater self-sufficiency and food security in the coming years. So, why is enhancing food security a priority for Singapore, and how is our farming sector using technology to drive greater self-sufficiency?
Climate Change and the Need for Improved Food Security
Currently, Singapore grows less than 10% of its food due to limited land and other natural resources. For import-dependent Singapore, the urgency of enhancing food security and self-sufficiency grows as climate change brings more unpredictable weather events like droughts and floods, which means more disruptions to global food supply and food prices.
Apart from climate change, other global crises like pandemics can also expose the city state to more supply-chain shocks and volatile food prices impacting food accessibility for the island nation.
How Technology is Making a Difference
Under the government’s initiatives to increase Singapore’s food security, a new $30 million grant has been launched to ramp up production of local farm produce. This complements the $63 million Agriculture Productivity Fund, which was set up in 2014 and enhanced in 2018, to support productivity-enhancing technologies. Vertical farms and closed containment fish farms are some examples of agritech innovations in Singapore, which aim to help local farmers achieve the stated target of providing 30% of Singapore’s nutritional needs by 2030.
1. High-Tech Egg Farms
Eggs are a rich source of protein, and agritech is being used to increase productivity, yield, and the types of eggs produced at the three chicken egg farms in Singapore – Chew’s Agriculture, N&N Agriculture and Seng Choon Farm.
New technologies have enabled the farms to automate their processes – from the feeding of hens, to the collection, grading and packing of eggs. All three farms have embraced the Singapore Quality Egg Scheme, and have adopted quality control monitoring systems to ensure the eggs meet the freshness and quality standards set by Singapore Food Agency.
Automation has raised productivity and increased local egg production significantly. Technology has also facilitated the production of specialty products like nutrient-enriched, pasteurised, and ready-to-eat eggs.
With continued technology adoption, more locally-farmed high-quality eggs and new product offerings will be available to consumers.
2. Closed Containment Fish Farms
Technology is also being used to boost the quantity and quality of fish produced in Singapore. Some coastal fish farms have started using closed containment systems to farm fish in controlled environments to protect the fish from external elements such as rising sea temperature, algae blooms and oil spills, which can wipe out tonnes of fish. In addition, Singapore Aquaculture Technologies’ Smart Floating Fish Farm is also using artificial intelligence (AI) to track the health and growth rates of its fish, while Aquaculture Centre of Excellence’s Eco-Ark is using its patented technology to produce more fish with less energy and cleaner water.
Closed containment systems also allow fish to be farmed indoors in a highly productive, and space-, water- and labour-efficient way. Apollo Aquaculture Group’s vertical land-based fish farm is using a Recirculating Aquaculture System to treat and recycle water to farm fish. It has also automated its processes from feeding to harvesting, and enabled farming conditions to be monitored and controlled remotely.
As technology is increasingly used to optimise resources and create suitable environments for fish farming, these high-tech farms will be able to significantly increase their production of fish for local consumers when their new farms operate at full capacity. Additionally, as the fish in closed containment systems are farmed in contamination-free environments, consumers can be assured that the fish are safe to eat.
3. Vertical Vegetable Farms
Vertical outdoor and indoor vegetable farms are sprouting up in Singapore. These farms use high-tech systems to maximise available physical space and create suitable conditions to grow more food with fewer resources. Vertical outdoor farm, Sky Greens, is using a rotating tier-based system that optimises light absorption and water- and land-use to produce tropical leafy greens. Indoor farms like Sustenir and VertiVegies, on the other hand, are using technological innovations to grow a steady supply of fresh produce in controlled environments, which are not vulnerable to floods, droughts and sun damage.
Apart from increasing yield, agritech is also used in vegetable farms to introduce new varieties of produce that were not previously grown in Singapore and not previously available year-round. These developments give local consumers access to delicious fruits and vegetables – including temperate and seasonal varieties such as strawberries and kale – consistently throughout the year.
By harnessing technology, these innovative farms are giving national food security a boost.
4. Emerging Technologies
Digital agritech like AI and the Internet of Things are enabling farmers around the world to digitalise the agriculture supply chain to achieve greater efficiencies and use data analysis to make more informed decisions. It’s now possible to aggregate data from hundreds or even thousands of farms to establish benchmarks, and give farmers insights on their performance to help them minimise resources and maximise yields for optimal results.
Farmers can also use big data to predict crop performance, and even deploy drones and farm-bots to automate their operations and collect real-time data on their farms for better decision-making.
In addition to optimising yields, technology can also help in reducing food wastage. For example, crop sensors can be used to track the health of crops and ultimately reduce the amount of diseased, unhealthy produce farmers have to throw out. Predictive analytics technology can also enhance supply chain efficiency and reduce food spoilage through improved logistics planning.
As Singapore’s farmers continue to embrace technology to boost our food security, more of these emerging technologies may find their way here in time to come.
A More Self-Sufficient Singapore
With disruptive climate changes on the horizon, Singapore’s farms will play an increasingly important role in supporting our food security, and safeguarding against global food supply disruptions and price shocks.
Many stakeholders along the entire value chain have a part to play to help Singapore realise its goal of becoming a more self-sufficient and sustainable food producer. These include:
- Government authorities who help the industry with funding and supportive regulatory frameworks,
- Solution providers who provide technologies that help farmers achieve higher productivity,
- Farmers who have to continually acquire more knowledge and skills to optimise the resources available to them, and
- Consumers who must increase their demand for local produce to enable our farmers to produce and supply more of our nutritional needs for a more self-sufficient Singapore.
To play your part, make a conscious effort to choose local when shopping for fresh produce. Look for the “SG Fresh Produce” logo or “Country of Origin: Singapore” on the packaging, or simply shop online for Singapore-farmed produce at e-SG Farmers’ Market.
Watch this space for another article coming your way.