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Commentary: Beefing up Singapore's food security? Here's a menu of suggestions

Food security has risen to the forefront among key concerns for Singapore, with the recent ban or restrictions on export of food supply imposed by many countries in order to protect their own resources.

Besides the ongoing geopolitical issues causing major disruptions to the global food supply chain, the Covid-19 pandemic has also significantly impacted the global agricultural landscape.

Besides the ongoing geopolitical issues causing major disruptions to the global food supply chain, the Covid-19 pandemic has also significantly impacted the global agricultural landscape.

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Food security has risen to the forefront among key concerns for Singapore, with the recent ban or restrictions on export of food supply imposed by many countries in order to protect their own resources.

A land-scarce city state, Singapore has been importing around 34 per cent of its chicken from neighbouring Malaysia.

When Malaysia stopped its chicken export, Singapore had to brace for a traumatic disruption, and consumers had to adjust to a 10 to 30 per cent price hike.

Besides the ongoing geopolitical issues causing major disruptions to the global food supply chain, the Covid-19 pandemic has also significantly impacted the global agricultural landscape.

Adding to that is the uncertainty that comes along with climate change, disease outbreaks and decline in resources. In short, it does not look like the food supply shortage problem will go away soon.

Singapore also has an ambitious “30 by 30” goal. That is, it aims to build up its agri-food industry’s capability and capacity to produce 30 per cent of our nutritional needs locally and sustainably by 2030.

However, the island-state has a long way to go. Currently, it only has one per cent of land available for food production.

Also, as of 2021, its agri-food industry contributed only four per cent of vegetables, eight per cent of seafood and 30 per cent of hen shell eggs to the total food consumption.

CLOSER TO HOME

Singapore needs a food supply chain that is sustainable and closer to home as it goes against upcoming challenges, such as an exploding global demand for food — projected at 60 per cent higher than now by 2050 — due to a growing population.

Bringing the supply chain closer to home not only benefits the planet by reducing carbon footprint across the entire supply chain, the shift also brings economic, health and social benefits.

Supply chains need to be enhanced and be more inclusive to cater to this concept of local sourcing and produce, as well as the demand for meat alternatives as healthier options.

Opting for locally produced products can change the way value is distributed along the supply chain and shorten traceability paths on products.

Food traceability allows manufacturers to follow the movement of its food product and ingredients through all steps in the supply chain. A shorter traceability usually means food is fresher or picked at the peak of ripeness.

Additionally, a smaller, more agile supply chain also gives us access to new ideas that are closer to market trends.

For consumers, their well-being is a key driver — more attention is being paid to quality and health, and where the products are sourced from.

As a result, there has been an acceleration in demand for local and organic produce — consumers are willing to pay up to 25 per cent more than conventionally-grown food products.

Singapore can consider moving part of its overseas food supply chains for hen shell eggs, fish and leafy vegetables back home.

From 2020 to 2021, the total value of local production of these food produces has increased 13 per cent, from S$163.4 million to S$185.2 million.

GOING GREEN

With changing consumer preferences and uncertainties plaguing the food industry, there is no better time than now for industry players to go green.

While Singapore consumers are increasingly attuned to climate-friendly alternatives, a majority feel that there are insufficient options in the market to consistently make greener choices.

So, how can we build a sustainable ecosystem from food producers to suppliers all the way down to consumers?

One of the ways to achieve this is for industry players to adopt a “farm-to-fork” approach by incorporating sustainability into all stages of their supply chain.

Examples of doing so include sourcing locally with suppliers and leveraging technology and innovation to better track food waste of its clients.

For example, the WasteWatch technology, a holistic food waste prevention programme designed for Sodexo sites around the world, has helped an international school in Singapore to save approximately 30 metric tonnes of carbon.

LEVERAGING SMART TECHNOLOGY

Food tech innovation is an essential part of stemming global climate change and meeting consumers’ ever-changing preferences.

The traditional food production model sought to expand food supply by finding land, water, and labourers to grow more food. However, these assumptions on unlimited resources have come into question in recent years.

With the world continuing to face insufficient food supply due to factors such as climate change, changes in geopolitical situations, evolving consumption habits, and the emergence and continuation of the pandemic, Singapore needs to leverage new technologies and innovations to meet increasing food demands.

Hearteningly, we are seeing a trend in local food players making inroads in the food and beverage sector.

Last year, Singapore made global headlines as the first regulatory authority in the world to approve the sale of lab-grown meat. 

Today, there are around 20 companies developing lab-grown meat and plant-based protein set up in Singapore, which is fast becoming Asia's most important food-technology hub.

Singapore’s continued efforts in achieving its sustainability goal clearly demonstrate the nation’s progressive approach to novel food and provide a promising new template for the global food crisis.

The existence of urban farming prototypes and typologies is proof that the farming industry in Singapore is flourishing.

Moving forward, industry players have to focus on accelerating innovation in the agri-tech industry, as this is crucial to meeting the demands of a city with limited space and resources.

Driving innovation may also be the only way for us to make the switch from resource consumers to self-sufficient and sustainable producers.

RESPONSIBLE CONSUMPTION

Amid these challenging times, every individual has a role to play. Singapore consumers can adapt and adjust their eating habits.

For instance, instead of demanding for fresh meat, consumers can make small adjustments like being open to frozen meat — they are as nutritious as fresh meat, but cheaper.

Interestingly, the demand for plant-based food and transition to flexitarian lifestyles have caught on in a big way in recent years.

Research has shown that interest in conscious consumption in Singapore more than doubled in 2020 as more turned their attention to food quality, health considerations and the impact of food on the environment.

Over the past couple of years, we can see the obvious change of dietary preference across Asia, with Singapore emerging as the most mature market for plant-based food.

Consumers are realising that a plant-based/flexitarian diet brings about many benefits and positive impact to our overall health, including lower risk of type II diabetes and hypertension.

It is also better for the environment as consuming less meat means there is less demand on livestock, which is a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Abel Ariza is president of Sodexo’s Malaysia-Singapore cluster. The company offers facilities management and food services. These are his own views.

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