Local production, diversification are ways to safeguard food security

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli tells science and environment correspondent Audrey Tan that despite having a secure method of diversifying food imports, Singapore needs to build its own sustainable food system

Growing more food locally and increasing the number of import sources are ways that Singapore safeguards its food security in the face of shocks like Covid-19.

"But if people stockpile (food) at home and inadvertently waste it later, it is a waste of effort to bring the food in in the first place," Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, told The Straits Times and Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao in an interview that was broadcast yesterday.

Ensuring food and water resilience requires striking a balance between supply and demand, said Mr Masagos, who oversees both the Singapore Food Agency and national water agency PUB.

For example, PUB ensures that water flows from taps in Singapore regardless of weather conditions or other threats, he said.

But he added: "If all of us don't turn off our taps, then no amount of effort on the supply side will be able to fulfil the demand that we need in terms of water. Food is the same."

His comments come after Lianhe Zaobao reported last week that an oversupply of eggs and reduced demand from food and beverage businesses had caused egg prices to plummet by at least two cents each.

Singapore imports food from over 170 countries and regions.

"But this pandemic has created situations which we, I would think, have never in our lifetime thought would happen," said Mr Masagos.

For example, agricultural countries restricted food exports over concerns for their own food security, and this caused the prices of some important food items such as rice and flour to rise, he noted.

"(There have been) price fluctuations, supply disruptions, and we therefore have been thinking about what we have to do to tackle this," said Mr Masagos.

One solution, he said, is to boost local production.

 
 
 

The Government has set a "30 by 30" goal for the country to produce 30 per cent of its nutritional needs locally by 2030. Only about 10 per cent of food demand is now produced locally.

Said Mr Masagos: "We now call it 30 by 30 Express... to launch it fast, and hope we see the results within six to 24 months."

Technology will be a great enabler in helping Singapore to achieve this in the short term, he said. There are also plans to make Lim Chu Kang an innovation hub for food production.

"It will not just be a place where you produce food locally. It will also be a place for innovations, to put in research and development ideas, a place where we can also implement zero-waste concepts, where the waste from one part of the industry can be used by another part of the industry," said Mr Masagos.

Singapore is sowing the seeds of innovation, he said. "These are all exciting developments that I hope our children will benefit from."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2020, with the headline 'Local production, diversification are ways to safeguard food security'. Print Edition | Subscribe