Dear NUS staff, students and alumni,
A very good evening to one and all.
2 Let me begin by thanking NUS for your support of Climate Action Week 2020, which is taking place from 15 to 21 August this year. Climate Action Week was initiated by my Ministry in 2019. Through various initiatives and partner events, we aim to raise awareness of the existential threat of climate change, and what individuals and businesses can do to respond to this challenge.
3 I am heartened that more youths today are showing an interest in environmental issues, and more organisations are implementing sustainable practices. NUS, for example, is issuing residential college students with reusable lunch boxes. This will help reduce the use of disposables, and hence our carbon footprint. At the individual level, this might not seem to be much, but multiplied thousands of times, it will go a long way, and hopefully instill life-long habits that gather momentum across future generations.
Strengthening our food security
4 Today, I would like to talk about the importance of food security, and what Singapore is doing to strengthen our resilience on this front. We currently import more than 90 per cent of our food. This leaves us vulnerable to disruptors such as climate change, market volatilities and animal and plant diseases. This is why it is important that we boost our local food production. The COVID-19 pandemic, which caused a brief bout of panic buying at the start of the Circuit Breaker, further underscores the need for Singapore to grow more food locally, to safeguard our food security.
5 Even before the COVID-19 crisis, the Singapore Food Agency, or SFA, had embarked on various strategies to increase local food production. Last year, we announced our goal to meet 30 per cent of our nutritional needs with locally produced food by 2030, with a focus on vegetables, eggs and fish. This is what we call our “30 by 30” goal.
6 In April this year, SFA announced a $30 million “30 X 30 Express” grant to further accelerate local production of eggs, leafy vegetables and fish over the next six to 24 months. SFA is now coordinating with various agencies to facilitate the necessary regulatory clearances so that farms can start producing these three types of foods as soon as possible.
7 Given our land constraints, we must also explore new and innovative ways of farming. Indeed, many farms are already adopting high-tech solutions to increase their yields exponentially, while maintaining the high quality of their produce. Since 2019, Citiponics has been operating a farm on the rooftop of a HDB multi-storey car park in Ang Mo Kio. To ensure sustainability and productivity in its operations, Citiponics has developed its own vertical growing technology, the Aqua Organic System (AOS), The AOS can potentially reduce water consumption significantly, as every drop of water is kept in a closed loop.
8 To open up more spaces for urban farming in our community, SFA recently launched a tender for rooftop farms on nine HDB multi-storey carparks. We have been encouraged by the response to the tender. We will make available more multi-storey carpark rooftop sites later this year.
Increasing Demand for Local Produce
9 While we work with the industry to increase local food production, it is also equally important to encourage greater support or demand for local produce. Our local farms need to have sustained demand for their produce to ensure that they remain commercially viable.
10 To make it easier for everyone to identify and purchase local produce, the SFA has been working with our farmers and retailers to label local produce with a new “SG Fresh Produce” logo featuring the SG brand mark. Today, you will be able to find the new logo on packaging of local produce sold at supermarkets and through online retailers such as Redmart. The SFA will also be launching a #fromSGtoSG campaign later this month, aimed at promoting local produce. So do keep a lookout for the campaign videos and updates on social media and other media platforms.
11 Beyond these efforts, we also want to tap on the ideas and experiences of the public on how we can increase demand for local produce. This is why my Ministry recently convened a Citizens’ Workgroup on this topic, to partner citizens to co-create and co-deliver solutions for Singapore’s context. I launched the inaugural meeting for this Citizens’ Workgroup on increasing demand for local produce on 18 July 2020 and since then, the workgroup has met twice. We look forward to sharing the recommendations of the Workgroup in due course.
12 I am heartened that NUS is stepping up its sustainability drive. It is using local ingredients in their first We go Local and Low-carbon Themed Dinner since the COVID-19 pandemic. Choosing to buy local produce has several benefits. First, it will help to spur our farms to embrace technology and become more productive to meet the increased demand. Second, as local produce is grown at home, it is fresher and lasts longer. Third, local produce has a lower carbon footprint, as it does not need to travel far and over a long period of time before reaching us. This also means less spoilage and food waste.
13 To conclude, I am glad that NUS has organised events such as the Sustainable Urban Farming talk featuring Citiponics’ co-founder Danielle Chan, who is an NUS alumnus, to raise awareness on the good work of our modern local farmers and the importance of supporting sustainable local produce. The local agriculture industry has evolved to meet the challenges of the future, and the needs of today’s consumers. The infusion of technology into farming has altered the shape and character of the industry. It is no longer the back-breaking, labour-intensive industry that some imagine, but an exciting sector with interesting developments, such as transformation of our food sources, and which will offer young graduates a great career. I look forward to the continued growth of the industry, and more recognition and support for local products and offerings.