Written reply by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, to Parliamentary Question on Local-Foreign Employment in Local Food Production Sector, on 4 September 2020
Mr Gan Thiam Poh: To ask the Minister for Sustainability and the Environment (a) what is the ratio of Singaporeans to foreigners working in the local food production sector; and (b) how will the Ministry attract more Singaporeans to the farming sector to work as employees or as owners and entrepreneurs.
Written Reply by Minister Grace Fu:
1 The local agri-food sector comprises over two hundred farms producing mainly eggs, fish and vegetables. As of June 2020, slightly more than half of the workers hired in the sector were locals, and most of the foreign workers were semi-skilled workers holding Work Permits. This is because the majority of these farms adopt conventional methods of food production, which are often low in productivity and labour-intensive, involving manual feeding or planting, harvesting and packing.
2 With new farming technologies, the agri-food sector presents fresh job opportunities. My Ministry has set the “30 by 30” goal to produce 30 percent of our nutritional needs locally by 2030, up from less than 10% today. To achieve it, we will need to uplift and transform our farms to embrace such new technologies to be highly productive, innovative and sustainable. The agri-food sector will generate more higher value-add jobs and demand for skilled workers. For instance, vegetable farming can shift from single-layer outdoor cultivation which is manpower-intensive, to multi-tiered, automated indoor farming where a few workers can manage the growing environment through sensors and a computer-controlled system.
3 We have introduced policies to support the industry in its transformation journey. Since 2014, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) has been co-funding farmers’ investments in productivity-enhancing farming equipment through the $63 million Agriculture Productivity Fund. In April this year, SFA launched the “30 by 30 Express” Grant Call to crowdsource innovative proposals to accelerate local production in the near term amidst disruptions in global food supply chains due to COVID-19.
4 As the agri-food sector modernises, we can expect to see a shift in agri-food sector workforce towards one that is highly-skilled and manpower-efficient. There will be a growing demand for agriculture/aquaculture specialists, and we will build up a pipeline of local talents with multi-disciplinary skillsets.
5 To attract and emplace skilled workers in the agri-food sector, SFA has worked with various Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) and local farms to develop relevant Pre-Employment Training (PET) and Continuing Education and Training (CET) courses. These programmes equip students and adult job seekers with skillsets that will lead to careers in the agri-food sector. For example, over the years, SFA has partnered polytechnics to curate diploma programmes in aquaculture and agriculture technology, including part-time diplomas targeted at career-switchers keen to join the high-tech farming sector and individuals in the sector looking to upgrade their skills. SFA also helps to match students in these programmes to local farms for structured internship opportunities, giving them a first-hand experience of working in farms while putting their knowledge and practical skills to use. More than 60 students have benefited from such structured internships over the past 3 years. Just a few months ago, SFA partnered Temasek Polytechnic to launch a SGUnited Skills programme, “Up-Skill in Aquaculture Technology”, to provide essential knowledge for Singaporeans who are keen on a career in the aquaculture industry.
6 SFA will continue to introduce and expand initiatives that will transform the agri-food sector and upskill the agri-food workforce. These will be rolled out at the right time to meet industry needs without creating oversupply. We want to see more Singaporeans in the local agri-food sector, contributing towards a more food-secure Singapore.