Singapore's food security dependent on diversifying sources: Maliki

Monica Kotwani Channel NewsAsia 21 Aug 14;

SINGAPORE: The Republic is reliant on other countries in terms of food support, but diversifying food sources minimises the impact of a crisis on any single food source, said Minister of State for National Development Maliki Osman on Thursday (Aug 21).

Singapore imports more than 90 per cent of its food supply from about 160 countries, but it is aware of the challenges associated with food security in Asia, such as the shift towards urbanisation, decreasing food production and the loss of farming land, Dr Maliki said in his keynote speech at the International Conference on Asian Food Security.

“In February this year, Singapore experienced its worst dry spell in history since 1869. The high temperatures reduced the level of dissolved oxygen in our seawater, resulting in massive fish deaths at our coastal fish farms. Such episodes can occur anywhere,” said Dr Maliki.

He highlighted the role of research and development (R&D) as a solution to the food security problem. “We should seize the opportunities to invest in technology now so as to be better prepared to tackle the effects of climate change on farming.”

"The United Nations estimates that even today, about 20 per cent of our total world food comes from our cities," he said. "So as an urban society, what can we do? Try breeding plants that grow in much better in limited spaces, with limited water and limited sunlight.

"We can do more and all this requires technology. Technology in terms of water compensation, water utilisation, space limitations, the ability to use sunlight - all this requires R&D."

Another conference speaker told Channel NewsAsia that Singapore can use its strengths in R&D to help neighbouring countries, and find new ways of producing food in an urban landscape.

Professor Paul Teng, an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies’ Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, said: “Whatever discoveries made here can be applied in neighbouring countries. It doesn’t take long for new discoveries to be translated into products. As an urban society, we can try breeding plants that grow much better in a limited space, with limited water and sunlight.

“Singapore also has several hundreds of rooftop surfaces. Can we develop new technologies that allow us to better utilise this rooftop space?" he added.

The International Conference on Asian Food Security, organised by the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, aims to identify initiatives in policy and technology to mitigate challenges associated with food security in Asia. The opening of the two-day conference was attended by about 150 participants from 19 countries.

Even as experts pointed out the role of technological advances in securing food supply, some said that in the future this could mean consuming food that is completely different to what we're used to today, such as synthetic meat produced from cells.

- CNA/kk/ek