SPEECH BY MR DESMOND TAN, MINISTER OF STATE FOR SUSTAINABILITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT, AT THE NANYANG TECHNOLOGICAL UNIVERSITY PEAK PROGRAMME GRAND FINALS ON 1 OCT 2021
Ladies and gentlemen
FOOD SECURITY IS AN EXISTENTIAL CHALLENGE
2 Climate change is an existential crisis that impacts global access to food supply. Extreme weather conditions have affected farming productivity and disrupted global supply chains, which in turn drive up food prices, exacerbate inequality and economic loss. According to research led by Cornell University, 21 per cent of growth for agricultural output has been lost since the 1960s because of climate change.
3 In Singapore, the challenges we face in food security are multi-faceted. Our limitations in land and natural resources mean that we need to balance competing interests and needs. With just one per cent of our land allocated for food production, we rely heavily on imports for our food supply. This makes us highly dependent on global supply chains and susceptible to price fluctuations. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified these vulnerabilities, as our import sources face export restrictions and manpower shortages.
GROWING LOCAL AND STRENGTHENING SINGAPORE’S FOOD RESILIENCE
4 To enhance our food resilience, we have set ourselves a “30 by 30” target, where we will develop the capability and capacity of our agri-food industry to produce 30 per cent of our nutritional needs locally and sustainably by 2030. We aim to do so by supporting our industry partners in leveraging technology to produce more with less, and creating demand for our local produce. This includes funding support to help farmers offset costs to increase productivity and technology adoption.
5 In April this year, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) launched the $60 million Agri-Food Cluster Transformation (ACT) Fund. The ACT Fund supports local food-producing companies in technology upscaling and test bedding, as well as capability upgrading. Response has been encouraging. We have received 36 applications so far since the Fund was launched. To tackle challenges facing tropical aquaculture and urban agriculture, we have also awarded over $23 million in funding to 12 projects under the Singapore Food Story R&D Programme grant call.
6 We are concurrently working on a holistic masterplan to develop Lim Chu Kang into a high-tech agri-food zone that can raise food production in a sustainable and resource-efficient manner. The plan is to re-parcel existing land plots to optimise utilisation, develop infrastructure to support productive farming, and establish shared facilities to achieve economies of scale. We started a series of engagement sessions in May this year to gather public views on food security and seek ideas on the masterplan. The final phase of the engagement sessions, which will have participants put forth their vision for Lim Chu Kang, has just commenced. I look forward to the proposals from our participants.
7 The agri-food industry is set to grow bigger. We will need talent to be part of this growing industry and take on leadership roles. To nurture talent, SFA works with Institutes of Higher Learning such as the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) to provide structured internships for students interested to pursue careers in these fields. I encourage you to explore the opportunities available so that you too, can contribute to Singapore’s food security.
8 As individuals, each of us can also play our part in enhancing our food security. We can support our local farmers by buying local produce, which will in turn encourage them to grow more. The next time you or your family members shop for groceries, remember to look out for the “SG Fresh Local Produce” logo and show our local farmers some support.
BUILDING A RESILIENT AND SUSTAINABLE FUTURE FOR SINGAPORE
9 Whilst we continue in our efforts to strengthen food security, we should look into managing food waste as well. Today, food waste accounts for 11 per cent of Singapore’s total waste. To reduce the proportion of food waste, we are prioritising our efforts on reducing food waste at source, redistributing excess food, and treating food waste for energy and resource recovery. These efforts will allow us to optimise our food resources and achieve our goal to become a Zero Waste nation.
10 Singapore’s agri-food industry presents numerous opportunities for innovation in sustainable food production and waste management. This will require a systemic and multi-disciplinary approach that calls for technical expertise in product and process development, business acumen to identify new opportunities and engagement to rally the community in supporting our efforts.
11 NTU’s PEAK Programme this year brought five businesses and 40 students from different disciplines together to address challenges related to food sustainability. I thank the university for providing our youths this platform to better understand this topic in the real-world context, and industry partners an opportunity to gain new insights through the lens of our future generation. For the participating students, I hope that this journey has inspired you in thinking about the ways you can contribute towards Singapore’s sustainable development as you enter the workforce.
12 Let me conclude. Food security is an existential challenge for Singapore given our land limitations and reliance on imports. As we strive to meet our goals for local food production and resource maximisation, our agri-food industry presents many growth opportunities that our youths can tap on. The NTU PEAK Programme has provided the participants first-hand experience in what can be achieved in the business context and in our personal capacities, and I hope many more will be inspired to do your part in sustainability and food security.
13 I wish our participants all the best in your final pitches today. To all the other guests, I wish you a pleasant day ahead.