Sustainability: Singapore imports 90% of our food supply, can we survive if a crisis cuts it off?

By February 1, 2020Current, Food, The Dive

TL;DR – We need to up our local production, and fast! 

With a population of 5.7 million spread out across a meager 721.5 square kilometres, it is quite clear that Singapore is very much land scarce, leaving nary any land for agricultural purposes. We are highly dependent on other countries for our food supply – importing 90% of our supply from over 170 countries

This also means that our food imports can be subject to volatility such as export bans, climate change, export route deviations and crises. While Singapore does its best to diversify its food sources, it is evident that more needs to be done on the home front.  

30 by 30 singapore food sustainability

Singapore’s Food Story (via MEWR)

30 by 30 

The Singapore government has long recognised our high dependency on food exports and has embarked on an ambitious “30 by 30” plan. In a bid to raise Singapore’s self-sufficiency and sustainability for the long run, we aim to increase our local food production to meet 30% of the domestic demand by 2030. 

Currently, our local suppliers are able to meet 27% of the demand for eggs, 13% demand for leafy vegetables and 9% demand for fish. 

To get to the ‘30 by 30 vision’, will require our agri-food industry to adopt new solutions to raise productivity, apply R&D, strengthen climate resilience, and overcome our resource constraints.

-Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli 

St John’s sea bass high tech farming fishing Allegro Aqua

St John’s sea bass – a special breed of sea bass that is more disease resistant and grows faster(via TODAY)

Technology is the key

The agriculture industry in Singapore is vastly different from that of other developing countries.

It is characterised by cutting-edge science and technology and is focused on high-value, high-productivity and low-land usage activities. Many agri-food production lines are in high-tech controlled environments to negate extreme weather changes and ensure consistent output. Other systems are also automated – feeding of livestock, watering of vegetation, collection of produce, sorting, packing.    

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Ensuring food sustainability for Singapore has catalysed the need for efficient and productive methods of farming. Take the Singapore-developed special breed of sea bass by Allegro Aqua that is bred in 30% less time and is also less susceptible to diseases. This one of a kind breed was a culmination of a selective breeding programme that yields sea bass with more fillet at faster growth rates. 

Temasek rice agriculture urban farming high tech

Temasek rice – a specially formulated rice variety (via TEMASEK)

Temasek Rice – an aptly named variant that was specially formulated in Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory to be super hardy and produces four times as much rice compared to regular rice breeds. It is also able to withstand extreme weather – in case of floods, it will hibernate for up to 2 weeks when submerged in water.  

Leveraging such technological innovations in farming and food production will help our nation overcome land and manpower constraints while ensuring food sustainability. 

Getting creative with our space 

Our nation also needs to continue to be creative about the limited space that we have.

Alternative spaces such as rooftop gardens on HDBs or vacant state buildings can be used as test-beds for urban farming projects. Vertical gardening and hydroponics also help reduce the space required to grow crops.

The former site of Henderson Secondary School along Henderson Road will now be turned into an integrated space – combining urban farming, a childcare centre, nursing home and dialysis centre. 

Come 2021, a plot of land the size of 33 football fields will see Singapore’s first Agri-Food Innovation Park which will be a hothouse for farming innovation. The park will have a range of high-tech farming and research and development (R&D) activities including indoor plant factories, insect farms and animal feed production facilities.

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With this in place, Singapore looks to become a leader in urban agriculture and agri-tech, aiming to develop a food model that can be exported to Asia. 

Water catchment sustainability water security

Singapore is currently able to meet 70% of its domestic water demand (via Siemens Singapore)

Our water story 

Ensuring sustainability also goes beyond food production. In the aspect of water sustainability, Singapore has done very well. Foresight and planning has seen our nation able to enjoy a 70% self-sufficiency rate through recycled water making up 40%  and desalinated water making up 30% of our consumption. 

In fact, Singapore’s water story is often talked about. It’s a fantastic story about the value of being prepared.

Singapore’s Public Utilities Board also aims to meet future demand by doubling the amount of clean water it produces today by 2060 without using more energy. This would incidentally be before Singapore’s 2nd water agreement with Malaysia expires in 2061.

Ensuring a constant and adequate water supply will help Singapore reduce dependencies on external factors that could threaten our water supply. 

Vertical garden urvan farm technology kickstarter

iHarvest vertical garden on Kickstarter (via Kickstarter)

How we Singaporeans can do our part

With all the efforts taken by the Government in mid to long-term plans, Singaporeans can also play a part in helping to ensure food and water sustainability. 

1) Support local! 

Buy local produce and support our local farming community. In this way, they can then put their profits towards increasing production further. Home grown produce is also fresher as less time is wasted transporting them from other countries and is from a known source. 

2) Grow your own food

Many types of plants and herbs can be grown in your own home (yes – even in HDBs). Vertical gardens and hydroponics make it possible to grow some types of plants even within confined spaces. 

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3) Responsible water usage 

Using water wisely and making every drop count goes towards helping reduce water wastage. Simple measures such as reducing shower times, using the washing machine to wash a full load or even using a cup when brushing teeth go a long way in helping Singapore in its goal to be self-sufficient. 

How to ensure Sustainability with an ageing population: Singapore is so young, but ageing so fast!


Towards a more sustainable future 

With a resource and land scarce country like Singapore, it is paramount that the Government carefully makes plans for Singapore’s sustainability that goes beyond just the environment, but also safeguards our food and water security. 

Singapore, with its solid infrastructure, technological know-how and strong Government support, is certainly poised to be a global leader in high-tech agriculture and water processing. 

Say whatever you will, Greta Thunberg and fellow green activists. The planet is no doubt one very important part of Sustainability. But for Singapore, the very basic conditions for survival perhaps take prime stage and centrestage. We need our water and food for our people.

The Dive: Most Singaporeans do not know what Sustainability is about, but our Government does


So we’d like to increase awareness not just about caring for Mother Earth, but to remember that Sustainability has three pillars – Planet, People and Profit.

One cannot do without the other. It’s all about balancing all the needs and arriving at a sweet spot when all three pillars are taken care of.


The sweet spot where all three Ps meet is where Sustainability happens (via)


Read others in the Sustainability series

(Featured image via)


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Jasmine C

Author Jasmine C

Pens random musings of life for anyone who would listen to an idealistic yet practical soul. xx

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