Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

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

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.

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.

READ ALSO:

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.

LESSONS FROM WATER

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.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

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.

Read more of the latest in

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.

Aa