n island nation with few natural resources, Singapore is dependent on food imports for over 90 percent of its requirements. Despite the constraints, food has remained available and affordable, and has earned it the unlikely accolade of being ranked by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2018 as the most food secure nation in the world.
As past achievements do not guarantee future success, a new food regulator was established on April 1, 2019 to address all food-related issues, from food production to food hygiene. The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) brings together the expertise of three agencies – Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) and National Environment Agency (NEA)’s capability in licensing, compliance management and investigation, and Health Sciences Authority (HSA)’s expertise in testing.
Speaking at the SFA launch, Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR), noted, “The global agri-food landscape is changing rapidly. By 2050, global food demand will rise by 60 percent with growth in the global population. Vital resources, such as water and energy will be increasingly scarce. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates widespread declines in crop yields of up to 25 percent by 2050 due to climate change. As we import over 90 percent of our food, Singapore’s food supply could be at risk.
“We also need to manage the risks from the growing complexities in global food supply chains. While the AVA together with other agencies have worked well together over the years to address food security and safety issues, we must ensure that our regime continues to stay well ahead of the curve.”
Singapore’s Three Food Baskets
Food imports will remain Singapore’s primary food basket for the foreseeable future. To ensure it will never be caught wanting, Singapore has expanded its supply sources to some 180 countries across the globe.
As figures from the World Integrated Trade Solution (WITS), a trade software provided by the World Bank, show there is still cause for concern. In 2017, in US dollar terms, Singapore is dependent on five countries - France, Malaysia, UK, China and US – for over 50 percent of its food supply, and 10 countries, which included Indonesia, Thailand, Australia, Japan and Vietnam, for 75 per cent of its food supply.
For selected staples like eggs, the dependence is even higher, with Malaysia accounting for a hefty 73 percent of Singapore’s egg consumption and local farms, 26 percent. The remaining 1 percent comes from accredited farms in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Thailand.
Alarm bells were set off when Malaysia mulled the possibility of curtailing egg exports because of a supply shortfall in December 2018. While the threat did not materialise, it underscored the need for Singapore to cast its net wider.
Importers have taken heed of the SFA’s call to expand Singapore’s food source and have added Ukraine to their list of egg suppliers. Since the middle of 2019, over 5 million eggs have been imported from Ukraine. Though this is a fraction of Singapore’s annual egg consumption of some 2 billion, the numbers are expected to grow as Ukraine, with its sizeable agricultural sector, is a net food exporter.
Senior director of SFA’s Food Resilience Division Melvin Chow told The Straits Times, “We are encouraged that importers are heeding our call to diversify food sources. There is room to diversify further and more importers must play their part in ensuring Singapore’s food security.”
Singapore’s second food basket is to grow local. Under the 30 by 30 vision, its aim is to increase local production to 30 percent by 2030 from under 10 percent at present. Given its constraints of land, water and manpower, Singapore would have to draw on its strengths in technology and research to improve productivity as well as insulate its production from the vagaries of the weather.
Even as it supports local production, the SFA is also continuing to nurture its third food basket – producing food overseas. Working with Enterprise Singapore, the agency supports companies as they venture overseas to produce food without some of Singapore’s limitations. Not only does it allow companies to access new and bigger overseas markets, it also helps them to lower their production cost through economies of scale, enabling them to sell more cheaply to Singapore.
Barramundi Asia is a fine example of SFA’s thrust. Having established a firm foothold in Singapore with farms off Pulau Semakau and Raffles Lighthouse with combined production of 6,000 tonnes of barramundi, also known as Asian sea bass, the company has embarked on a major expansion plan in Brunei. Costing S$300 million, the project involves the construction of a 6,613-hectare offshore fish farm at the Nankivell Offshore Aquaculture Site and a 25-hectare processing centre in Meragang, which will also have a hatchery and nursery.
At the signing of the Sea License Agreement and Lease Agreement between Brunei’s Department of Fisheries and Barramundi Asia (B) Sdn Bhd on May 2, 2019, Group Managing Director of Commonwealth Capital and a member of Barramundi Asia’s Board of Directors Andrew Kwan told the media, “Brunei checks all of these boxes plus the Brunei government has been very supportive of the initiative.”
The farm will be developed in phases. With the conclusion of phase one by 2024, the company is expected to produce 4,000 tonnes of barramundi. By 2032, when its fully operational, its capacity will multiply to 36,000 tonnes, generating an estimated S$324 million for the company. Most of its production is expected to be exported.
Said Mr Kwan, “With the world’s population expected to increase to nine billion by 2030, demand for protein will increase. By specialising in sea bass early on, the company hopes to position itself as the world’s biggest supplier of the Barramundi, which is widely consumed in Southeast Asia.”
With dwindling fish stocks in South east Asia, the primary source of fish supply for Singapore, due to over-fishing and poaching, the increased production from Barramundi Asia will be a welcome addition to Singapore’s food supply.
By acting proactively and developing all three baskets while there is still ample food supply worldwide, the SFA is helping to ensure that Singapore remains resilient against possible food shocks caused by climate change.