Speech by Dr Koh Poh Koon, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, at the Singapore Agro-Food Enterprises Federation Limited (SAFEF’s) 5th Anniversary Dinner, on 22 November 2022
Mr George Huang, Chairman of SAFEF
Ladies and Gentlemen
1 Good evening. It is my great pleasure to be back and to meet many old and new friends tonight, as we gather to celebrate this significant milestone of SAFEF’s.
SAFEF’s Achievements Over Past 5 Years
2 I was invited to be Patron when SAFEF was first formed in 2017. Back then, SAFEF started with just 20 members. Today, we have 81 members – a four-fold increase in membership. This is all due to the hard work and dedication of the SAFEF leadership team led by George and the Secretariat staff.
3 Over the last 5 years, SAFEF has been steadfast in its mission to promote, elevate and transform the local agri-food industry for the future. SAFEF brings together industry stakeholders to co-create new ideas and solutions to promote awareness of local produce in Singapore. They work alongside Government agencies and stakeholders to grow this sector and to co-develop industry standards to raise the capability of the industry to produce high quality products.
4 I am sure many of you here have participated in at least one of the SG Farmers’ Markets organised by SAFEF. SAFEF has organised and participated in nearly 20 SG Farmers’ Markets in various locations across Singapore. This tremendous effort has built awareness among Singapore consumers of the produce that our local farms bring to market.
5 In addition to physical farmers’ markets, SAFEF has collaborated with Redmart to roll out an e-commerce version of the SG Farmers’ Market available to consumers 24/7.
6 Besides the Farmers’ Markets, SAFEF has also brought together eight farms to participate at the recent Food and Hotel Asia show in September this year – one of the largest trade events in Asia for the food and hospitality community. I am happy to hear that some of the farmers are following up on the business leads they received. I hope that more of our farming enterprises will take part in future iterations of the show.
7 Beyond promoting local produce, SAFEF has also been actively helping farms leverage technology and R&D to expand their production capabilities and capacities by collaborating with Institutes of Higher Learning and technology solution providers to organise training workshops and technology matching events.
8 Local farms have also benefited from SAFEF’s advisory support in business development in areas including branding, intellectual property protection, and exploring opportunities to develop value-added products to ensure greater business resilience. For example, ComCrop decided to trademark its brand after learning about the importance of intellectual property through a workshop conducted by SAFEF. Rong Yao is also developing value-added products such as fish sausages, which were introduced at the SG Farmers’ Market to gather feedback from consumers.
9 Since its inception, SAFEF has always played an important role in fostering close partnerships and conversations between the Government and our agri-food industry on various issues of concern. When we undertook to transform our land-based farms, we knew there will be new, unanticipated issues that we may encounter. Hence the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) took a proactive approach, worked with SAFEF members and other government agencies to co-develop an industry guide for land-based farms in 2020. While developing the guide, feedback was specifically sought from members on the regulatory challenges faced when setting up farms in Singapore. I am encouraged to hear that many of our farmers – both new and incumbents looking to expand – have found the guide informative as it enabled them to better plan and navigate the regulatory process of establishing and operationalising their farms.
10 As we look at transforming our sea-based farms in the coming years, I am also pleased to announce today, the launch of another industry guide – this time for our sea-based farms, co-developed by SFA and the relevant government agencies, with contributions from SAFEF. This guide will inform sea-based farmers of the key regulatory approvals and procedures so that they can better chart the processes of starting their sea-based farms in Singapore. You can access the guide via the QR code at the reception table and I hope farmers will find this useful.
11 I appreciate SAFEF’s efforts in fostering greater collaboration amongst members and driving the transformation of our local agri-food industry. This continued partnership is especially important in view of evolving challenges to global food security and supply chains. We can expect disruptions to our food supplies to occur more frequently with climate change and geopolitical tensions impacting our global supply chains, affecting crop yields and leading to increased costs.
12 This is why we had adopted a multi-pronged food resilience strategy, which includes diversifying import sources and growing local. With the global food system in turbulence, local produce provides Singapore with the means to mitigate the impact of food supply disruptions. Our ambitious “30 by 30” goal – to build our agri-food industry’s capability and capacity to sustainably produce 30 per cent of our nutritional needs by 2030 – requires the deep involvement of our local agri-food industry and consumers more.
SAFEF 2.0 – Offtake, Aggregation, Industry Efforts
13 I am heartened that SAFEF is keeping up with the times and evolving to better support the local agri-food industry’s changing needs. The global and economic outlook and circumstances when SAFEF was formed five years ago is very different from today.
14 As we celebrate the 5th Anniversary, I think it’s appropriate for us to look at what “SAFEF 2.0” will look like.
15 In my recent meeting with SAFEF leadership, they pointed out that we need to develop solutions tailored to the evolving needs of our local farms, be it raising competitiveness, better navigating the local regulatory regime, or adopting environmentally sustainable farming practices. I agree with their assessment.
16 This means developing specific ways to support our farms across the value chain, from ensuring the sufficiency of our agri-inputs (seeds, feeds, fish frys etc), to having enough consumer demand and offtake of local produce to keep our farms commercially viable.
17 I am pleased to hear that SAFEF has several initiatives planned for the coming years to address and support these needs. SAFEF will be setting up sector-based committees to address the specific concerns of each respective sector.
18 The urban farm committee has already been set up to explore solutions for farms to manage and effectively adapt to the rising costs of electricity while an aquaculture committee will look into building up local hatcheries that will supply fry and fingerling to local farms. These initiatives will benefit our farmers immensely to make them more resilient, and I urge members to contribute and participate actively in the various committees.
19 To develop the capabilities of the farms and ecosystems, and to support their growth in a commercially and environmentally sustainable manner, SAFEF will also be working towards supporting our farms in areas such as enterprise management, farm management, and technical advisory. I hope farms will find these useful in better navigating the local regulatory regime and adopting environmentally sustainable farming practices.
20 Some of our farmers have told me that demand offtake remains a major concern for them. Last month, we announced the SFA Retail Incubation Programme in partnership with FairPrice, to support the sales of produce from selected local farms in supermarkets and provide mentorship in areas of products, pricing, and promotion mechanics. I understand that there were positive reactions to this initiative and more importantly, greater awareness and support among consumers for local produce.
21 SFA is working with SAFEF and the industry to launch two new Alliances for Action (AfA) – one to look into demand and supply aggregation of local produce, and another to build greater awareness for local produce through consumer education and branding. Collectively, the AfAs have the potential to develop solutions to address the concerns with demand offtake. Recently we had a multi-stakeholder brainstorming session and there was consensus that these AfAs are useful ways to grow the industry. I encourage members to join these AfAs and contribute actively. I believe, in return, you will find useful business opportunities.
22 Finally, in our discussions with SAFEF, we have agreed that SAFEF will take on some structural reforms to bring their plans for the next few years to life and better support the industry in dealing with future challenges. This includes beefing up the Secretariat with more manpower to drive the various initiatives and co-opting professionals with different expertise to join the Board.
23 I am looking forward to working with a ‘re-energised’ SAFEF as it embarks on its next chapter, and I hope that you will give your fullest support to the SAFEF team as we strive towards our common goals.
24 SAFEF will continue to play an important role in catalysing the next phase of growth for our local agri-food industry.
25 A restructured SAFEF
a. with stronger a Secretariat team and a more diverse Board,
b. with members actively forming specific sectoral working groups and
c. forming AfAs to leverage on the strengths of complementary sectors for more impactful industry growth will help us take the next lap of our Agri-Food transformation to the next level.
26 I encourage our local farmers, farming enthusiasts and entrepreneurs to join SAFEF as members to continue working closely with SAFEF to grow our capabilities and capacity to strengthen Singapore’s food security. We can grow stronger by working together and tapping on one another’s strengths and resources. You can also be assured of SFA’s support in your journey ahead. I will, of course, also walk this journey with all of you.
27 As we mark SAFEF’s fifth anniversary this evening, I would like to thank all its past and present management committee members for their contributions in representing and advancing the interests of our agri-food sector. Let us continue to build on our past achievements and work together to achieve greater heights for many more years to come. Once again, congratulations to SAFEF, and I wish all of you an enjoyable evening ahead.
28 Thank you.