30 by 30: Boosting food security in land-scarce Singapore

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In 2018, Singapore was ranked the most food secure country in the world by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). The city-state, which currently produces less than 10% of its own nutritional needs, will not rest on its laurels.

By Maegan Liew

In an effort to improve its food security, Singapore has set its sights on increasing its food production capabilities by threefold over the next ten years.

Coined the ‘30 by 30 vision’, the Republic has set the target of producing 30% of its nutritional needs by 2030 – up from less than 10% today. The aim is to increase the cultivation of vegetables and fruit and boost the production of protein sources to strengthen the resilience of Singapore’s food supply.

Food security is a rising concern on a global scale

Worldwide, food security is emerging as a serious risk. Global population growth, the expanding middle-class, climate change and plant or animal disease outbreaks are contributing to greater uncertainties and threats to food supplies.

Growing complexity in global food supply chains has also introduced greater contamination risks. This poses an increased challenge when safeguarding food imports – an issue close to the heart of import-dependent Singapore.

To beef up the Republic’s food security, the government will establish the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) next month. It will consolidate regulatory oversight of food safety and security, which had previously been divided among three public agencies. With food safety from ‘farm-to-fork’ under the purview of a single agency, the government aims to bolster food security across the island-nation.

Singapore’s dependency on imports makes food security of paramount importance

The Republic’s position last year atop the global index for food security despite its heavy dependence on imports showcases the city state’s success at bolstering the resilience of its food supply. This positions the import-dependent nation ahead of major food-producing countries worldwide in the arena of food security.

Food security, however, is a constant work in progress for Singapore. With over 90% of its food supply dependent on imports, the Republic is exposed to the volatilities of the global food market, including export bans and sudden disruptions to transport routes.

The global food crisis in 2007, for instance, led to a 12% increase in prices of Singapore’s food imports. Presently, the Republic also faces possible disruption to its food imports due to Malaysia’s announcements last year that it would restrict certain seafood exports and limit or end egg exports to Singapore.

Source: WITS

The Singaporean government has embarked on extensive efforts to diversify its food sources to better secure its food supply. Today, the Republic imports food from 180 countries, up from 140 in 2004. However, reducing its vulnerability to supply chain disruptions in today’s volatile, globalised world will ultimately depend on the city-state’s ability to ease its reliance on imports.

Singapore is reversing its decades-long shift away from agriculture to achieve greater food supply resilience

Following its independence, the Republic embarked on a rapid urbanisation campaign that transformed it into the city-state of today, where less than 1% of the land area is used for agriculture.

Decades earlier, its landscape was vastly different. At its independence in 1965, Singapore produced 60% of its domestic vegetable demand, 80% of poultry and 100% of eggs. Punggol had pig farms that not only met domestic demands but also allowed the country to export pork. Five decades ago, nearly 10% of Singapore’s population was actively engaged in agricultural activities.

Last year, Singapore managed to produce just 24% of its eggs, 13% of leafy vegetables and 9% of the fish consumed in the country. The aim over the next decade is for the city-state to produce 20% of its fruit and vegetable demand and 10% of its proteins from sources like meat and fish.

But land-scarce Singapore will struggle to set aside the space required to meet its 30 by 30 vision. Home-based producers will have to substantially increase efficiency and productivity to meet the 30 by 30 goal.  

Embracing agri-tech will be key to reaching its lofty aspirations

Technology will be an important resource in Singapore’s 30 by 30 goals. By tapping into agri-tech solutions, Singapore can increase land productivity and maximise its energy and water resources.

Technological innovation promises unprecedented developments for Singapore’s agricultural sector. Just last year, the tropical island city-state grew strawberries for the first time – with the help of technology in a controlled hydroponic environment.

Urban farming in the garden city will not be an entirely new challenge

To maximise land use for the growing of food, Singapore is looking to explore underused and alternative spaces, like rooftops or vacant buildings, for farming. This new endeavour is not unlike the Republic’s past efforts at injecting green spaces into its urban landscape.

With almost 30% of its urban areas covered by greenery, Singapore is amongst the greenest cities in the world. Singapore has already kickstarted its efforts to earmark undeveloped land for farming in the city. The former site of Henderson Secondary School, for example, is set to become the country’s first integrated space comprising an urban farm, a childcare centre, nursing home and dialysis centre. It is set to become a test-bed for innovative food-growing technologies.

Achieving increased food self-sufficiency rests on grooming innovative agri-talent

Increasing food production by threefold in a city-state will require large scale innovation. Singapore must groom its next generation of farmers who can drive the development of its agricultural industry.

These will be citizens with a passion for farming and the expertise to implement technological advances. A reinvention of the agricultural sector within Singapore will be important to attract the talents it needs. Farming has to be seen as a viable career option to nurture a future generation of agri-talents equipped with professional agriculture and food processing know-how.

Singapore’s ambition to become an agri-tech hub is sending the right message to investors. It has set the city-state on a strong footing to achieving its 30 by 30 vision. It now needs to push through with its goal by grooming the future leaders of the agricultural industry who can guarantee Singapore’s future food security.