TL;DR – We need to improve the robustness of our food security.
If you haven’t already heard, Malaysia has just announced that they may stop or limit egg exports to maintain local market supply.
Ostensibly, this was a result of complaints from Malaysian consumers including those in Penang, Sarawak and Putrajaya about the increase in the price of eggs especially in mid-November. It is said that in the first week of November, the price of grade A eggs in Putrajaya increased from RM3.98 (10 eggs) to RM5.11. In the third week, it went down to RM4.04. After that it has remained at around RM4.
Although it wasn’t explicitly mentioned that they will stop supplying eggs to Singapore, it is definitely Singaporeans should be concerned with.
Singapore currently imports about 76% of the eggs we consume from Malaysia. So you can do the math yourself here…
Good wake-up call
This incident is a good wake-up call to the vulnerabilities that Singapore faces. For most of us, it is quite convenient to access the basic necessities.
Want clean, drinkable water? Turn on the tap.
Want fairly affordable food? You probably can find it within walking distance from where you are.
As a result, we have started taking a lot of things for granted. It should be in the DNA of every Singaporean to know that we are vulnerable in many ways, but we have forgotten, or choose not to believe so.
Our government has done much to constantly remind us of our vulnerability regarding water. Recently, our government reminded us again. Minister Chan Chun Sing reminded us that the availability of clean, drinking water is an existential issue. He then went on to emphasise the need to make the necessary investments in building enough desalination and NEWater plants so that water will “never be a weapon pointing at our head” again.
However, some experts say that Singapore hasn’t done as much to ensure our food security. For example, Prof Paul Teng, a food security expert at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), said:
Singapore securitised water… many, many decades ago… (But) with food, I would argue that we have not securitised food at all
Instead, many of us take food for granted, resulting in massive food wastage. In 2016, Singaporeans threw away 791,000 tonnes of food. That’s equivalent to the weight of more than 3,500 MRT trains. An average household throws away the equivalent of two bowls of rice daily.
So we definitely should do more to improve the robustness of our food security. Cutting down food waste is a start. There are a lot more measures that we can, and are starting to, take.
Measures we are already taking
One such measure is to boost the local food supply. Currently, farms here provide less than 10 per cent of Singapore’s overall food supply – namely fish, vegetables and eggs. Some experts felt there is scope to double it. This can be done through using higher technology in the production of food.
The Government announced that new plots of farm land with longer leases have been set aside to promote high-tech farming. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) has been working with farmers to raise production through modern practices and technology, improve productivity, manage animal diseases, monitor water quality and promote local produce to consumers. Farmers can also tap on AVA’s S$63million Agriculture Productivity Fund to modernise and invest in innovative technologies and advanced farming systems.
Another measure that Singapore is taking to boost the robustness of our food security is to diversify our food sources. Singapore today imports food from 170 countries, up from 160 in 2007. Take eggs for example, we have started importing eggs from Thailand.
To diversify our food sources, Singapore has also started the practice of overseas contract farming.
An example was the Sino-Singapore Jilin Food Zone in northeastern China, where AVA provides technical advice to the Jilin authorities to maintain a disease-free zone and subsequently, diversify Singapore’s food sources by regularly exporting key food items to the Republic. The initiative exported its first product to Singapore towards the end of 2016, with the Fragrance 43ºN japonica rice being sold at FairPrice Xtra and FairPrice Finest outlets.
Let’s turn a threat into an opportunity
We managed to minimise the threat to our water security. With sufficient effort and investments, we would be able to minimise the threat to our food security too.
And, if we handle it well, we might even be able to grow a food technology industry in Singapore producing agricultural technology, and urban farming equipment, and food products that can be exported to the rest of the world.
Many times in our history, we’ve turned threats into opportunities. This could well be another one of those stories.
(Cover image via)