Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Singapore's Food Security "30 by 30" plan

[Two articles on the state of SG's urban farming endeavours.

See also the 2015 post on this.]

Singapore’s ‘30 by 30’ food production target: Is it feasible?

By Paul Teng and Jose Montesclaros

 09 April, 2019

The recent announcements in Parliament to raise Singapore’s food self-production level from the current 10 per cent to 30 per cent of total food needs by 2030, the “30 by 30” strategy, have raised some pertinent questions on capacity, investment and exportability.

Singapore’s huge dependency — 90 per cent — on imports for its food supply puts it at the mercy of external forces in the exporting countries, most of which are beyond the Republic’s control.

So it is laudable and indeed even overdue, that the government would want to reduce the country’s vulnerability and achieve greater stability in its supply of food as part of food security.

According to the Agriculture and Veterinary Authority (AVA), Singapore imports food from some 170 countries.

They are geographically spread out as part of its resilience strategy and includes thousands of different food items.

The consumption of 10 of the most common food items (leafy vegetables, other vegetables, fruits, chicken, pork, fish, other seafood, mutton, duck and beef) amounted to 1.36 million tonnes in 2017.

Singapore also consumes about 1.97 billion eggs (or about 108,300 tonnes at 55g per egg).

A 10 per cent self-production of all these items would mean producing 147,300 tonnes. The current targets for self-production of eggs, fish and leafy vegetables are 33 per cent, 15 per cent and 10 per cent respectively.

Available data shows actual self-production at 27 per cent for eggs (500 million eggs), 10 per cent for fish (5,900 tonnes) and 13 per cent for leafy vegetables (11,800 tonnes), which means the last target has been met.

Although it is still unclear as to what food items will be prioritised to increase self-production in the “30 by 30” strategy, it can be assumed that there will be efforts to build on the current trio of leafy vegetables, fish and eggs and reportedly, other animal protein and staples.


Singapore’s farming revival: 'Tech is the only way to go'

Reducing imports to 70 per cent (or increasing self-production to 30 per cent) raises the question of how much each of the same food items will be increased in self-production.

For leafy vegetables, if consuming population in 2030 is 6.34 million, the projected demand is estimated at 101,500 tonnes, at 16 kg per capita consumption. This is 11,200 tonnes more than in 2017.

If a 30 per cent leafy vegetable self-production target is set, it would be equivalent to producing 30,400 tonnes. Singapore is already producing 11,800 tonnes, which is 13 per cent of consumption.

So moving from the current 13 per cent to a higher 30 per cent level requires an additional 18,600 tonnes produced locally.

This is physically possible, with several large indoor plant factories starting production, and more likely to be developed, although the question of viability remains.

Fish presents a different challenge. Most of the over 100 licensed fish farms in Singapore are small farms with low technology enablement.

The handful of high-tech fish farms have demonstrated success but require significant investments beyond the reach of most small farmers. The sector would have to undergo a dramatic structural transformation in favour of commercially viable farms that operate at scale.

Experience from advanced aquaculture, fish-exporting countries shows that small fish-farmers inevitably give way to large commercial fish farms.

At a projected demand for 95,100 tonnes of finfish by 2030, 30 per cent of this (or 28,500 tonnes) could be met by fewer than 10 large farms each producing 3,000 tonnes annually. Currently, there is only one modern large fish farm in Singapore.

The policy question remains as to whether co-existence of small and large commercial fish farms should continue.


Last month, Minister of Environment and Water Resource Masagos Zulkifli suggested that the food sector could emulate the success of the water sector, reiterating what other political office holders have said previously.

With dedicated planning and investment, Singapore today is able to enjoy 70 per cent of self-sufficiency in water through recycled water (40 per cent) and desalinated water (30 per cent).

The remaining 30 per cent is from local catchments and imported water, according to PUB. Mr Masagos highlighted that the process of addressing domestic water needs also created over 14,400 jobs, and S$2.2 billion in revenues, supported by 200 companies and 25 R&D centres.

These companies, however, are not just a byproduct of increasing water self-sufficiency. Rather, such an eco-system or cluster of companies is actually a pre-requisite — an important lesson for the food sector. Innovative companies can provide low-cost inputs while maintaining or even improving on quality.

Some of these inputs include vertical planting/growing infrastructure, smart irrigation, fertiliser solutions, light emitting diodes, and seeds that boost both nutrition content and yield. Similarly, in the aquaculture sector, this will require companies providing inputs such as improved fish breeds, supplementary feed, vaccines and technology for biosafe growing conditions.

This eco-system also includes experts with sufficient knowledge in engineering, finance, biotechnology, and agricultural system optimisation.

On the R&D side, farming analytics solution providers that help model and derive the optimum traits for increasing yields, reducing water waste, and increasing the efficiency of using other nutrients for vegetable and fish growing, are needed.

An open and competitive market environment is also critical to ensuring these companies compete on both input price and quality. Furthermore, the presence of active agritech and fintech entities in Singapore could draw new investments into the food sector.

Singapore currently holds the record of being the most food secure country in the world, according to the Global Food Security Index published annually by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

This has been achieved through keeping food affordable relative to household incomes, high food safety standards and a mostly reliable supply chain from many countries.

The handful of self-produced food items will likely remain so, as there are no comparative advantage to produce food that requires large tracts of land and special growing conditions. But a 30 per cent self-production in at least three strategic food items will give Singapore some buffer should there be short-term supply disruptions.

The added value of fostering a new sub-sector of supporting companies could also lead to more economic opportunities for agritech innovations.

To meet the remaining 70 per cent of food needs will still require that the country pays attention to developments overseas and plays its role as a responsible global citizen in efforts at addressing food security elsewhere.


Paul Teng is Adjunct Senior Fellow (Food Security) at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University and a former Deputy Director-General, WorldFish Centre, Malaysia. Jose Montesclaros is Associate Research Fellow at the Centre. This is adapted from a piece which first appeared in RSIS Commentary.

Farm to fork: Local producers to meet 30 per cent of Singapore’s nutritional needs by 2030

Apollo Aquaculture Group's prototype vertical fish farm at Lim Chu Kang.
By Kenneth Cheng

TODAY file photo

07 March, 2019

SINGAPORE — By 2030, homegrown produce could meet 30 per cent of Singapore’s nutritional needs, easing its reliance on imports and reducing its vulnerability to supply disruptions.

Home-based producers now meet less than 10 per cent of Singapore’s nutritional needs, and Singapore imports more than 90 per cent of its food supply.

The “ambitious” target, announced by Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli on Thursday (March 7), will also give enterprises and jobs here a lift.

The Health Promotion Board said that a “healthy plate” is made up of 50 per cent fruit and vegetables, 25 per cent protein such as chicken and 25 per cent staples such as brown rice.

The authorities said that local production has been increasing.

Read also

Rooftop car-park greens on the menu, as Singapore innovates to grow agri-tech sector

Last year, farms here supplied 24 per cent of the eggs, 13 per cent of leafy vegetables and 9 per cent of the fish consumed in Singapore.

The Government hopes to achieve its 2030 vision in the following ways.

  • Expand agri-food production in high-tech controlled environments, with farming becoming more akin to manufacturing, in order to ensure a consistent output. This is also a “predictable” avenue to deal with the effects of climate change and extreme weather, which can affect yields.
  • Bump up the productivity of land, use resources such as water and energy efficiently, and automate and integrate systems via robotics and sensors.
  • Through technology such as indoor multi-storey vegetable farms that use light-emitting-diode technology and recirculating aquaculture systems, production of vegetables and fish can increase by 10 to 15 times a hectare, compared with traditional farms.
  • The new Singapore Food Agency (SFA), to be formed next month, will help farmers build capabilities through technical support, research-and-development tie-ups and the transfer of technology.
  • To encourage sustainable farming, the agency will also help farmers adopt advanced systems such as curtain systems that shade crops and reduce the impact of high temperatures on crop growth.

Read also

Singapore’s farming revival: 'Tech is the only way to go'

  • Explore more spaces to grow food in Singapore, including underused and alternative spaces such as vacant state buildings, rooftops and even the deep sea.
  • The former site of Henderson Secondary School along Henderson Road, for instance, will be turned into the country’s first integrated space — spanning 35,686sqm — comprising an urban farm, a childcare centre, nursing home and dialysis centre. It could be a test-bed for innovative food-growing technologies. A public tender for the urban farm will be awarded in May.
  • Deep-sea fish farming, which is highly productive, can also boost local production significantly. The SFA will work with agencies to open up more sites for this purpose. For example, Barramundi Asia — Singapore’s largest farm rearing barramundi (Asian sea bass) in large sea-cage enclosures — registers a yearly production of more than 400 tonnes. The farm occupies a 7.5ha space (10 football fields) off Semakau island.

Read also

For new breed of local farmers, the sky’s the limit

  • A pipeline of Singaporean talent with a good grasp of urban food-production processes and business models is needed to expand and support Singapore’s agri-food ecosystem. They need multi-disciplinary expertise in the sciences, engineering, information and communications, robotics and energy, and waste and business management.
  • To meet demand, the authorities have been working with institutes of higher learning to develop courses, such as SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programmes, that lead to diplomas in urban agricultural technology and aquaculture.

  • Demand from consumers is key.
  • Homegrown produce is fresher as it arrives at retail outlets more quickly and is safe because it can be traced to its source easily, the Government said.
  • The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore, which will be dissolved when the SFA is formed, has rolled out initiatives to promote homegrown produce. It has organised SG Farmers’ Markets in the heartlands and tied up with supermarkets to hold fairs featuring such produce.

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