Committee of Supply 2014 - Speech by Minister of State Maliki Osman "Food Security"

MND Press Release 10 Mar 14;

Let me now touch on the issues raised by Ms Faizah Jamal and A/P Muhammad Faishal on food security.

Today, Singaporeans enjoy a steady supply of safe food at affordable prices. Our supermarkets’ shelves are never empty, and we can always find a place, be it a hawker centre or restaurant, to have our meals. Yet, like water and energy, we should never take our food availability for granted. We must continue to ensure our food supply resilience, especially when we import more than 90% of our food.

Madam Chair, food source diversification will continue to be our core strategy to ensure Singapore’s food security. This strategy has worked well when some supply sources are disrupted. For instance, the recent export ban of several species of fish by Malaysia had minimal impact on our fish supply as our importers were able to increase fish imports from other countries to meet our consumers’ demand. During the world rice shortage in 2008, Vietnam banned the export of rice but we had adequate supplies from different sources, and our rice stockpile provided the additional assurance of buffer stock.

While we actively open up overseas food sources to guard against supply disruptions, we have also supplemented our food imports by producing three key food items, namely, eggs, fish and leafy vegetables locally.

Ms Faizah has said that AVA gave a reply to a Forum Page letter in the Straits Times last year that Singapore aimed to be self-sufficient in these 3 key food items. This is incorrect. We have never aimed to be fully self-sufficient in these food items. We cannot, as we do not have enough farmland. AVA’s reply dated 23 February 2013 that Ms Faizah referred to, in fact said that we only aimed to achieve some degree of self-sufficiency in the production of these 3 key food items.

The reality in Singapore is that we have limited land with many competing uses. Hence, land for our local farming sector will remain small. Our focus will be on the key food farms, and we will work with these farmers to boost farm productivity in a sustainable manner, and to intensify the use of whatever limited farmland we have.

Ms Faizah asked about how the recent mass fish death incident has affected our aim of achieving self-sufficiency in fish supply and how much time is needed to recover from the loss. The recent mass fish death incident which saw losses of up to 500 metric tonnes of fish was indeed unfortunate. However, the impact to our food supply was minimal as our farms produced only 6% of the fish consumed in Singapore. AVA is assisting the affected farmers to get back onto their feet and resume production in the following ways.

First, AVA will fund 70% of the cost of restocking of frys and fingerlings to help the affected farms re-start their operations.

Second, AVA will increase its Food Fund’s co-funding support from 50% to 70% for the purchase of equipment and systems that farms can put in place to mitigate against similar incidents in future. These include aerators, oxygenators, generators, water treatment systems and water quality monitoring systems.

Third, AVA will review and strengthen the current alert system to quickly detect and warn farms of adverse environmental conditions which could affect their farm production.

Fourth, AVA will work with the fish farms to develop a more sustainable sea based farming system, so that they are less susceptible to changes in environmental conditions.

The mass fish death incident is a timely reminder to our fish farmers to enhance their production systems through technological innovation to safeguard against externalities, build up their resilience and to improve productivity.

Madam Chair, allow me to display a photo on the LED screen. One beneficiary of the Food Fund is the Metropolitan Fishery Group (MFG), a local fish farm which received about $570,000 for investments in solar powered aerators and water monitoring systems to enhance its operations. The investment has indeed paid off as the farm was not adversely affected by the recent mass fish deaths.

Ms Faizah also asked about rooftop gardens and whether there will be support for residents who wished to plant their own vegetables on rooftops. Such rooftop gardens are very much a community initiative and indeed, we are seeing the community gardening movement flourishing amongst our HDB residents.

HDB will set aside space at all new multi-storey carparks (MSCPs) rooftops, and equip them with planter beds and irrigation systems to facilitate community farming. Both AVA and NParks also conduct training for these community farmers. However, our experience shows that such initiatives require strong local champions who are passionate about community farming. The production capabilities of such community farms are also limited.

Let me now give an update of the work of the Inter-Ministry Committee on Food Security (or IMC in short), as requested by A/P Muhammad Faishal. Formed in 2012 under the purview of the National Security Coordinating Committee, the IMC is tasked to review and formulate strategies to mitigate food security risks and vulnerabilities. It started out focusing on two broad strategies – industry development and food wastage reduction. The IMC has engaged key stakeholders along the food supply chain, such as importers, processors, retailers and logistics players for their inputs.

The IMC recognises that there is room for the food industry to share resources and functions such as procurement, logistics or even equipment in order to boost productivity and efficiency.

We will also facilitate and encourage our food importers to move upstream and consider investment in farming, collection, processing or packaging to gain better control over product quality and supply. Some companies have started to do this, recognising the benefits of securing food at source. IE Singapore is in the process of, for example, assisting Chew’s Group Limited to set up an integrated aquaculture centre in China through grants and operational support. In this way, not only does Chew’s Group control the entire value chain, it can also gain access to one of the world’s largest seafood markets.

IE Singapore and AVA will continue to identify interested companies and match them with available opportunities for upstream investments in the region, expanding the source and supply of food back to Singapore.

The IMC also recognises that food wastage reduction can help enhance our food security by managing the demand for food. We must inculcate the right attitude and habit in not wasting food amongst all Singaporeans – young and old.

Today, households, food manufacturing and catering industries, food and beverage retail premises, hotels and shopping malls are the main food waste generators. In 2012, about 703,200 tonnes of food waste was generated in Singapore. This is equivalent to, on average of an individual wasting about 650 bowls of rice per year. Imagine how much food we can save to help the less fortunate and buffer us during times of emergencies!

All our stakeholders agree that more can be done to increase awareness of the need to reduce food wastage. The National Environment Agency (NEA) and AVA are now looking into developing a comprehensive public education outreach programme targeted at schools, community and retailers to reduce food wastage, especially in moderating the way we consume food.

Many of our stakeholders have already implemented their own initiatives to reduce food waste and are willing to do more. As part of IMC’s recommendations, several agencies such as NEA, AVA, and SPRING Singapore are developing guidelines for food manufacturers and retailers to help them identify areas along their supply chain to minimise food waste. We will consult the industry on these guidelines when ready. To implement these guidelines, companies can leverage on the existing NEA’s 3R Fund to reduce food wastage and promote more recycling.

Madam Chair, we have done well in sensitising Singaporeans to conserve water and energy. We should do likewise for food consumption.

All of us must play our part in ensuring Singapore’s food security. Besides inculcating good habits not to waste food, we must also be prepared to switch to equally good alternatives, for example, frozen meat in place of chilled meat, or powdered and liquid eggs as substitutes for shell eggs, when supplies are disrupted. By working together, we can increase our resilience and safeguard our food supply for our present and future generations. Thank you.