Government to set up two funds to improve food security in S'pore

Desmond Wong, Channel NewsAsia 31 Jul 09;

SINGAPORE: The government plans to set up two funds which will help improve Singapore's food supply resilience.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan announced this at the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) of Singapore Food Safety Awards Night on Friday.

Last year's rice supply crunch might be a thing of the past, but with Singapore importing 90 per cent of its food, the government isn't taking any chances.

The two funds will help ensure Singapore has a stable food supply.

The Food Diversification Fund will secure diverse sources of food through food production, or food zones overseas.

Mr Mah said: "Such food zones will provide safe, quality food to both the population of the host country as well as Singapore. However, these have to be commercially-viable to be sustainable and we encourage the private sector to seriously explore and spearhead investments into food zones."

The fund will also explore the possibility of seeking out partners for food production on a contract basis, while the Food Capability Development Fund will help support local farms and research.

Mr Mah said: "To give confidence for our farmers to invest in farms for maximum food production, the government will support local agriculture by setting aside land for these types of farms for the next 20 years.”

The government has set a target of being self-sufficient for 30 per cent of Singapore's eggs, 15 per cent of its fish and 10 per cent of its leafy vegetables.

The minister also said that consumers have a part to play in food security, such as understanding the benefits of substitutes such as frozen meat, liquid or powdered eggs. Knowing this will help the public react better to future shocks in the food supply.

The two funds are expected to be up and running within a year.

- CNA/yt

More land for growing food
More farm area, funds to be set aside to guard against global shortages
Jessica Lim, Straits Times 1 Aug 09;

MORE land will be set aside for growing food while companies will be encouraged to work with farms overseas to ensure that Singapore has a ready and stable supply of produce.

With the turbulence in food prices in recent years exposing the island state's vulnerability, these moves should mitigate supply shortages and sharp price increases in the long term.

'Local farming can serve as a strategic stockpile, like Newater,' said National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan in a speech at the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority's food safety awards last night.

More space for farms will be obtained by expanding existing farms or setting aside unused land parcels.

It has been projected that over the next five years, the local supply of eggs should rise from 23 per cent to 30 per cent, fish from 4 per cent to 15 per cent and leafy vegetables from 7 per cent to 10 per cent.

A fund, the amount of which is not yet known, will be available for farmers to tap for upgrading and expansion. It can also be used by companies, such as those involved in import and distribution, to explore if food zones identified overseas are suitable for investment of capital.

Singapore now imports more than 90 per cent of its food, and the zones will be identified for six key imports - chicken, pork, fish, eggs, leafy vegetables and rice.

Companies will be encouraged to work with growers to farm specifically for Singapore, in addition to their local communities. 'We want to encourage our companies to increase their participation in the entire value chain from food production to distribution, to better secure supplies,' said Mr Mah.

Importers now cast a wide net, working with suppliers from over 30 countries. But these growers also supply to the rest of the world, so when there is a shortage, such as that just last year, a bidding war ensues. Singapore hopes to bypass such a scrap with its own assured supply.

'As Singapore imports most of its food, we are vulnerable to sharp changes in food supply and prices,' added Mr Mah. 'More needs to be done as we prepare ourselves to face the longer-term challenges affecting global food supply and demand.'

The situation is still volatile, he said, citing factors such as: the world population is still increasing and supply will be affected by rapid urbanisation on top of years of underinvestment in agricultural development.

It is hoped that these new measures will prevent a repeat of the price inflation for food items that hit Singapore around this time last year. The situation sent the authorities scrambling to secure new lines of supply. An inter-agency committee was set up to study and review food supply policies. The new recommendations have sprung from that.

Manufacturers have welcomed the proposals. Mr Thomas Pek, managing director of home-grown soya sauce manufacturer Tai Hua, which imports up to 2,000 tonnes of soybeans a year, said his product went up in price last year following a shortage of the main ingredient.

'There was a shortage of soybeans the whole of last year and everyone rushed to secure supplies from Canada, which is the main supplier of soybeans here,' said Mr Pek. 'If we have a stable supply just for Singapore, prices will stay low and I don't have to worry.'

Some importers have already expressed interest in working with the Government to create overseas food zones.

Mr Lim Hock Chee, Sheng Siong's managing director, said his company - which imports rice and seafood - is 'seriously looking into it' and is assessing its capability to implement such a concept.

'We believe such a concept may add to the stability and consistency of food supply,' he said.

To plough a foreign farm

Govt mulls kitty to help firms invest in food zones overseas
Ong Dai Lin, Today Online 1 Aug 09;

FOREIGN farmland in Singapore hands, contracts with overseas farmers that lock in prices for supermarket shoppers, more locally-caught seafood in markets here.

This could be the future of Singaporeans' food supply - with more buffers against supply volatility - should certain plans continue to unfold.

In the face of global warning, disease and a growing world population threatening to drive food prices up, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan on Friday revealed the Republic's steps to get a firmer grip on its supply of rice, chicken, pork, fish, eggs and leafy vegetables.

The key change? Going beyond merely scouting for more diverse sources to "creating" them.

To this end, a Food Diversification Fund could be set up to encourage the private sector to invest, with foreign partners, in "overseas food zones" where quality food could be produced for Singaporeans and the host country.

Some - including former Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) chief Ngiam Tong Tau - have previously argued the case for land-scarce Singapore to buy farmland overseas, within the region or even as far afield as Latin America.

The precedent has been set by countries such as South Korea, which has farmland in Sudan, and Saudi Arabia (in Tanzania).

Another purpose of the fund - the key recommendation of the inter-agency committee tasked last year to draw up strategies for food supply resilience ­­- would be to help local companies go into contract farming.

This is where an agreement is made with overseas farms to supply food for a fixed price for a specific period. NTUC FairPrice gets its supply of organic vegetables from Thailand this way.

In this, AVA will help match-make firms with foreign suppliers that meet Singapore's food safety standards.

And such support is vital, industry players told Today. "For contract farming to work, it must require a credible grower who has integrity. It's not that straightforward," said vegetable wholesaler Philip Seow.

On more than one occasion, he has had to throw away a few tones of capsicums imported from Indonesia, because of higher pesticide levels than was allowed in Singapore.

He had told the suppliers about such requirements, "but the farmers tried to gamble", he said.

The stubborn mindset is a challenge. Some weeks ago, he went to Central Java with AVA officials. One grower-exporter asked why he could not use the same pesticide that he used on produce for Taiwan.

Sheng Siong supermarket's assistant managing director, Mr Lim Hock Leng, said government support could protect local companies if the supplier breaks the contract.

"If the foreign suppliers' country is peaceful, supply is not a problem. But if anything happens in the country, the suppliers can just cut off the food supply and there's nothing we can do."

For now, the supermarket has not thought about contract farming or investing in overseas food zones.

AVA WILL 'Push the envelope' on risk management, says Mah

Speaking at the AVA's Food Safety Awards Night at Orchard Hotel, Mr Mah said that International Enterprise Singapore will conduct a feasibility study on how the Republic can be "an effective node in the food distribution network across Asia".

Not only will being a hub for the food trade add value to the economy, it could mean an edge in access should there be a supply disruption.

AVA will also "push the envelope on risk management approaches", said Mr Mah - meaning that Singapore will keep existing supply ones open even if there is disease or food contamination in the source countries.

Wouldn't consumers fret over safety? AVA's CEO Tan Poh Hong said the worry was "psychological" and risk education was key in allaying their fears.

It was also recommended that the food industry beef up its business continuity plans, such as by maintaining links with non-traditional sources. Thygrace's Mr Lim, for instance, said that when the monsoon season wiped out capsicum supplies, they turned to Saudi Arabia and Taiwan.

The inter-agency committee consulted 41 parties including food retailers and importers before drawing up its recommendations. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY LEONG WEE KEAT

More local fish, eggs and veggies ...
Ong Dai Lin, Today Online 1 Aug 09;

In five years' time, 30 per cent of the eggs that Singaporeans eat may be locally farmed, up from the current 23 per cent.

So that Singapore has a bigger buffer in case of a disruption to food imports, the Government is setting aside land for the next 20 years to produce more food locally.

Acting chairman of Singapore's Eggs Import and Export Trading Association, Mr Yeo Liu Cheeh, said that Singapore's current stockpile of eggs can last a week. The production boost would up that buffer to one-and-a-half weeks.

Local supply of fish will also be bumped up from 4 to 15 per cent of overall supply, and leafy vegetable from 7 to 10 per cent.

The AVA said Singapore's leading research and techniques in the rearing of marine fish could be tapped.

How much extra land will be allocated for farming is not confirmed, as the Government is also looking at how to improve production efficiency, said AVA. Such technology research will be funded by a Food Capability Development Fund.

It is likely, though, that the land will be in areas like Lim Chu Kang, AVA added.

President of the Kranji Countryside Association, Mrs Ivy Singh-Lim (picture), welcomed the move towards "self-sustainability" and suggested the Government also encourage Singaporeans to grow more vegetables in their HDB estates.

"Town councils can plant vegetables and make use of the energy of the old people to take care of the crop," said Mrs Lim.

Before land is farmed
Letter from Teo Kueh Liang, Today Online 4 Aug 09;

I REFER to "More local fish, eggs and veggies" (Aug 1 and 2).

Although it is gratifying to know that the Government is taking the lead and encouraging the private sector to explore ways in managing supply shortages of identified foods, the following need to be addressed beforehand.

First, would there be tax incentives for prospective farmers?

Second, would they get financial assistance and agri-food technology transfers?

Third, would long-term investments be affected by the land lease?

Finally, how will the authorities ensure that the price mechanism to be adopted is fair to both farmers and consumers?