New task force tasked to promote locally grown and reared foods to eateries, supermarkets

AUDREY TAN Straits Times 1 Feb 15;

Mealtimes in Singapore could soon have a stronger local flavour, as the authorities ramp up efforts to encourage consumers and businesses to buy more local produce.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) last month set up a local-produce task force to create greater awareness and promote the demand of key food items that have been grown, harvested or reared in Singapore, The Sunday Times has learnt.

It aims to work with stakeholders such as supermarkets, farmers and restaurants to "address challenges (and) develop and implement strategies for the promotion of local produce", which includes eggs, vegetables and fish.

Strategies being discussed include public education and outreach activities, such as community events and promotional campaigns at supermarkets and food and beverage (F&B) outlets, the AVA said in response to queries.

The FairPrice supermarket chain and the Restaurant Association of Singapore, which has over 300 members accounting for more than 1,600 F&B outlets, said that price was one challenge in getting people to buy local.

Said the association's executive director Lim Rui Shan: "The perception is that local produce is generally priced higher than similar produce from the region... (which) could be due to relatively higher production and operating costs."

But Mr Kenny Eng, president of farmer coalition Kranji Countryside Association, pointed out that prices are higher as local farms' produce meets only a small percentage of Singapore's food demand.

He added: "Instead of looking at price, we should also consider how local produce is safe and fresh. Foreign imports usually take at least one or two days to come into Singapore."

The task force is AVA's latest initiative to cultivate the local food scene here.

Last year, it doled out $1.25 million to help farmers produce more fish. In 2009, it also launched the Food Fund, which boosts farmers' productivity by co-funding investments in automation, mechanisation, research and development, and farm capability upgrading.

The AVA said that local food production "plays a supporting role in ensuring food supply resilience", serving as a buffer in case of sudden import disruptions.

"While AVA works with local farmers to boost production and capability, AVA also works with the industry to promote local produce to consumers," said its spokesman.

Mr Victor Chai, director of fresh and frozen products at FairPrice's purchasing and merchandising department, said the supermarket has worked with AVA on initiatives that promote local produce, such as the SGFish label that distinguishes locally farmed fish from imports.

"Over the years, we have noticed increasing demand for locally produced foods as shoppers begin to appreciate the benefits," said Mr Chai.

Sales of locally farmed red snapper, grey mullet and black tilapia fish, for instance, have shot up by about 50 per cent, Mr Chai added.

The all-local Kranji Countryside Farmers' Market, too, has drawn more visitors and sold more produce.

Its third and latest edition last month drew an 8,000-strong crowd, up from the 4,000 guests it welcomed in the first fair last June.

This month, a new initiative by four students from the Nanyang Technological University's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information is aimed at getting more people to eat local produce.

The students will collaborate with 10 F&B outlets, including Plonk, afterglow, East 8 and Portico, which are supporting local produce, such as by sourcing from local farms.

Said one of the students, Ms Jamie Foo, 22: "Singapore brands itself as a foodie nation, with eating as the national pastime. But for a country that eats so much, we actually produce very little... We should look more at the food we produce."