19 May 17 The Straits Times
The tendering out of 36 new plots of farmland in Lim Chu Kang and Sungei Tengah by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority is a small but necessary part of the nation's Food Security Roadmap. Farming takes up just 1 per cent of the total land area and Singapore imports more than 90 per cent of the food consumed. Even so, local production can help fill gaps in the supply of perishables when there are import fluctuations or when food safety considerations arise.
Global urbanisation trends point to an expanding number of importing countries vying for food, the supply of which is dependent on the weather, market and political conditions of supplying nations - factors which Singapore can do little or nothing to influence. Climate change could exacerbate the incidence of floods and droughts which might have a severe impact on food exports, especially when food producers come under pressure to feed their own people.
Hence, it is vital for Singapore to have sound food strategies, chief among which must be food source diversification. But other options that should also be pursued might include investments in food production abroad, stockpiling, and local production.
As part of the efforts to develop the industry, innovation must be encouraged to make the best use of scarce space and to boost yields. Farming is commonly associated with less developed countries, but in Singapore's context it is a field which also calls for research and development and cross-disciplinary collaboration. The hope here is to nurture a "generation of agri-specialists" who can tap engineering and infocomm technology for farming - for example, using robots and electronic sensors to optimise water and energy use and to monitor what is being grown and harvested.
Public awareness of the pursuit of food security is also important as its supply could make a critical difference to national security during prolonged economic disruptions globally, to say nothing of natural disasters and war. Thus, it is not for nothing that some of the most advanced industrial nations, such as the United States, Japan and South Korea, ensure that their agricultural sector remains capable of seeing their populations through periods of crisis. Given the importance of food production, supply and distribution, this sector should draw agile minds who can tackle issues such as a resilient network of suppliers, stockpiling strategies, food waste reduction, hedging against food price fluctuations, and food affordability. Local entrepreneurs should see the Government's food security framework as an opportunity to give this sector a boost. They can do this by bringing together existing and new technology, business know-how, marketing savvy, and efficiency in logistics and distribution.