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Securing a Supply of Safe Food for All

AGRI2122_ED02_Pix-01Securing a supply of safe food is fundamental to Singapore’s national security.

Throughout its history, Singapore always had to contend with a lack of land and natural resources. It is no wonder that strengthening Singapore’s food security has become a national agenda.

Global warming has been wreaking havoc on farming and livestock. In addition, the onset of COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruption to global supply chains, making it more difficult for countries to engage in trade internationally, and putting into greater prominence the need for countries to have a resilient source of their own food.

Singapore has planned for food supply disruptions for years, putting into action a comprehensive strategy after the global food crisis of 2007 and 2008, which took place amidst an unprecedented inflation and supply crunch in various key food items such as grains. While there are certainly challenges lying ahead, plans have been put in place to overcome them, and secure Singapore’s sustenance for the future.

To meet rising challenges on food safety and footo d security, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) was formed as a statutory board under the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) on 1 April 2019. MEWR has since been renamed Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) on 25 July 2020. The SFA brings together food-related functions carried out by the former Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore, the National Environment Agency and the Health Sciences Authority.

SFA is made up of a multidisciplinary team who is committed to a work environment conducive to professional development, innovation, cross-boundary exchange and interdisciplinary co-operation so as to be a cohesive organisation that is able to achieve its mission effectively.

The Work of SFA
Food Import & Export
SFA’s integrated food safety system safeguards food safety from farm to fork. The agency also facilitates food export by issuing internationally recognised certificates and permits, as well as promotes Singapore as a food transhipment hub.

Food Manufacturers
SFA regulates all local food processing, and storage establishments. It conducts site inspections to ensure proper bio-security, food safety and hygiene practices. Samples are also taken from a range of laboratory tests.

Food Farming
To effectively buffer from supply disruptions, Singapore aims to produce 30% of its nutritional needs by 2030. Through funding and technology transfers, SFA helps local farmers transform and adopt technology to intensify output.

Wholesale Markets
SFA manages the Jurong and Senoko fishery ports, and the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre – the main wholesale and distribution facilities for fish and seafood, as well as fruits, vegetables and dried goods.

Food Retail
SFA regulates all retail food establishments (including central kitchen, catering, and foodservice operations), markets, hawkers to ensure the safety of food and drinking water.

As the lead agency for food-related matters, SFA ensures and secures a supply of safe food for Singapore. It works hand-in-hand with the industry and consumers to enhance Singapore’s food security through its three “food baskets” – diversifying import sources, growing locally and growing overseas.

Diversifying import sources
The source diversification strategy has been serving Singapore well over the years, helping to weather through short term disruptions that have occasionally arisen from supply shortages overseas from time to time. Thanks to diversified sources and a national stockpile of essentials, Singapore imported over 90% of its food needs in 2019 from over 170 countries, assuring the public that it can weather any disruption.

“We have proven resilient to such disruptions, largely thanks to the astute planning of then-AVA (Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority), and the logistics and connectivity of our transport network,” said the then Minister for Environment and Water Resources Mr Masagos Zulkifli when he launched the ‘2020: Singapore Food Story’ on 10 February 2020.

It was highlighted that importers have also done well in continually diversifying their sources, so that when one supply source is hit, they could activate alternatives to make up the shortfall. This included recent episodes where Singaporeans rushed to stock up on essential food and household items, after the disease outbreak response level to COVID-19 was raised on 7 February 2020, and when Malaysia announced a Movement Control Order (MCO) that came into effect on 18 March 2020. Despite the panic buying, the Singapore Government was able to confidently declare food sufficiency for everyone.

To keep diversified food supply lines intact, Singapore partnered with like-minded countries to keep trade links open. In March 2020, amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Lao PDR, Myanmar, New Zealand, Singapore and Uruguay affirmed their commitment to maintain open and connected supply chains.

Nevertheless, with ongoing climate change, disease outbreaks, human-related disasters, and population growth, Singapore has had to up its game plan to increase local production.

As such, the MSE and SFA have devoted their efforts to the strategy of local production.

Increasing local production
The strategy of increasing local production kickstarted in 2019 with the ‘30x30’ goal — to produce 30% of Singapore’s nutritional needs on local soil by 2030.

For such an endeavour that aims to meet the ‘30x30’ goal using less than 1% of local land, agri-food businesses in Singapore need the boost in innovative solutions and production capabilities. To help local farmers ramp up the production of their crops, SFA has introduced funding schemes.

For example, the S$63 million Agriculture Productivity Fund (APF) co-funds farming systems to better control environmental variables and boost production capabilities. The enhanced APF expands its scheme into Basic Capability Upgrading (BCU) Scheme that supports the purchase of equipment that would help increase a farm’s productivity; Productivity Enhancement (PE) Scheme that supports the adoption of automated, advanced and integrated farming systems as well as co-fund test-bedding of technologies; Cash Advancement to help ease cash flow for APF projects with approved funding of S$30,000 and above. As of 30 September 2019, APF has already benefitted 107 farms for produce including vegetables, seafood and eggs.

A S$30 million ‘30x30 Express’ Grant was launched in mid-April 2020 to support the agri-food industry to ramp up local production in eggs, leafy vegetables, and fish in the shortest possible time. In September 2020, SFA increased its original S$30 million budget to close to S$40 million, to support the proposals that had been awarded, as part of efforts to support the growth of local agri-food enterprises and accelerate the ramp up in local food production over the next 6 to 24 months.

Local production is an important strategy in ensuring food supply resilience for Singapore. It complements the strategy of source diversification and ensures a degree of self-sufficiency for key food items such as eggs, fish and leafy vegetables. Locally grown food production will also provide Singapore with a buffer against supply disruptions.

Support local
Besides helping local farms to increase their productivity, the government has been encouraging consumers to buy local produce by raising public awareness of the quality and freshness of local produce. Consumers’ spending choices contribute directly to the commercial viability of local farmers and Singapore’s food security.

To further promote and help consumers better recognise local produce, SFA brought the industry and public together in the co-creation of a SG Fresh Produce logo which was unveiled by Mr Masagos at the ‘2020: Singapore Food Story’ on 10 February 2020.

Consumers are encouraged to do their part by supporting local produce. “Local produce is grown close to home, and it’s actually at home. It is therefore safer, fresher and lasts longer. There is less spoilage and food waste, as the produce does not need to travel for long periods of time before reaching the consumer.”

Since August 2020, the SG Fresh Produce logo has been seen on local produce on supermarket shelves, to help consumers identify eggs, fish and vegetables that have been proudly nurtured in Singapore.

SFA will continue to partner with grocery retailers to raise awareness of local produce through joint promotions and in-store messages. The Singapore Agro-Food Enterprises Federation has also partnered RedMart on Lazada to launch an e-SG Farmers’ Market with 20 farmers, to help them increase their distribution channels beyond brick-and-mortar stores and to reach more consumers via online platform.

Said Mr Masagos: “Food security is an existential challenge for Singapore. But it also offers many exciting opportunities for Singapore and we can create many good and green jobs for Singaporeans. Just like what we have done for water, we can overcome our food challenge by planning and investing for the long term, and working together as a nation. Just like water, the technology we use for food security will also enable our companies to grow overseas with our unique value proposition.”

The next chapter in Singapore’s food story has only just begun, and everyone can help to create one that centres on our food supply to secure sustenance for generations to come.