Speech by Senior Minister of State Dr Koh Poh Koon - Food and Climate Resilience
Speech by Dr Koh Poh Koon, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, at Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment’s Committtee of Supply (COS) Debate 2023, 2 March 2023
1 Mr Chairman, as a low-lying tropical island state that imports most of our food, food security, sea level rise, and inland flooding are critical concerns. We are making strong efforts to strengthen our resilience on these fronts.
Food Resilience: Securing a Supply of Safe Food
2 Food security is an existential concern for Singapore. We import more than 90% of the food we consume, making it impossible for us to insulate ourselves entirely from global food supply and price shocks.
Over the past two years, we have experienced first-hand the effects of supply chain disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, geopolitical disruptions and developments elsewhere as well as policy decisions taken by foreign governments.
But this does not mean that we are completely at the mercy of such external factors. We can shore up our resilience if we work together as a nation – with government, industry, and consumers each playing our part.
Diversifying import sources
3 Mr Gan Thiam Poh asked about lessons learnt during the COVID-19 pandemic, and our plans to ensure food resilience. Dr Lim Wee Kiak similarly wanted to know how our importers and consumers can become more resilient towards food supply shocks.
We take a multi-pronged approach. A core strategy is import source diversification for our key food items. We have increased our number of food supply sources from 172 countries and regions in 2019 to 183 today. We accredited Indonesia as a new source of chilled, frozen, and processed chicken meat, so we now have 25 accredited countries for chicken imports. We have also approved Brunei as a new source of eggs, and we now have 17 countries accredited to export hen shell eggs to Singapore, up from just 12 in 2019. The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) will continue to accredit more import sources and facilitate the industry’s further diversification, through sourcing trips and business networking sessions.
4 Having new sources of food imports will strengthen our resilience but only if companies put in place robust business continuity plans (BCPs), continue to diversify sources at the company level and maintain warm links with multiple import sources. This would help them to pivot more easily when needed, and protect their businesses during supply disruptions. Dr Lim Wee Kiak will be happy to note that the industry is adapting and working closely with SFA to review their BCPs and diversify their supplies.
5 While Singapore imports most of our food and is a price taker, consumers too, can exercise flexibility in their food choices when supply disruptions occur and pivot to other alternatives. We saw how Singaporeans readily switched to frozen chicken when Malaysian fresh chicken imports were disrupted last year.
6 I want to assure Dr Lim Wee Kiak that the Government is pressing on with our ‘30 by 30’ goal of building Singapore’s capability and capacity to sustainably produce 30% of our nutritional needs locally by the year 2030. Last year, we announced the enhancement of our Agri-Food Cluster Transformation Fund to offer farms a higher co-funding quantum for a wider range of food types, such as fruited vegetables and mushrooms. I’m glad to announce that SFA will launch the first land tender for this wider range of food types in the later half of this year. This will provide consumers with more food choices that are produced locally. SFA will provide more details when the tender is launched.
7 To build up even more industry capacity, we will need to optimise our limited agriculture spaces. We are making good progress in master planning Lim Chu Kang (LCK), where we will transform the region into a high-tech agri-food zone.
8 We intend to reap synergies between land-based farms in the LCK region and sea-based farming in the adjacent West Johor Strait. Mr Chairman, may I have your permission to display a slide on the LED screens?
A multi-disciplinary consultancy study will holistically plan the development of LCK and the adjoining West Johor Strait. For example, we are exploring siting our fish hatcheries and other key infrastructural and processing facilities on land, to provide support to both land-based and sea-based fish farms. We will also incorporate upcoming regional studies for coastal protection measures at the LCK coastline, to enable our farms to be climate resilient. Some of these ideas will be showcased in the LCK Master Plan exhibition, which SFA will launch in the second half of 2023. I hope members can look out for the exhibition when it is launched.
Stewarding a more productive and sustainable aquaculture sector
9 In the East Johor Strait, shown here, which is separated by the Causeway from the West Johor Strait, we have a distinct and separate cluster of fish farms, supported by key aquaculture facilities. The separation of our fish farms into two distinct clusters is especially important to enhance fish resiliency in the face of climate change, which may result in harmful algal blooms, as has happened in the past before.
10 Ms Cheryl Chan and Prof Koh Lian Pin asked how aquaculture would contribute to our ’30 by 30’ goal. Prof Koh Lian Pin also asked how we will ensure that the development of aquaculture in sea spaces is environmentally sustainable. We have identified fish production as one of our priority areas. It is a nutritious source of protein that can be efficiently produced. This is why we launched the Singapore Aquaculture Plan last year, to transform the sector in three ways: Increase and optimise spaces for farming; Help the industry to adopt technology and better farm practices; and Invest in research and innovation.
11 Ms Cheryl Chan asked how lessons from other countries with established aquaculture industries can be applied to our context. We plan to conduct a joint study trip this year with industry and academia, to countries with advanced aquaculture production, to understand how they have managed to grow their commercial aquaculture sectors without negatively impacting marine biodiversity. SFA will also dedicate significant resources and work closely with industry and academics to enhance our understanding of the effects of aquaculture on our local marine environment. For example, SFA is collaborating with NUS and the Barramundi Group to study the impact of aquaculture on the marine environment and marine life surrounding St. John’s Island. This study will conduct reef surveys and measure water and sediment quality prospectively over a period of time, to better understand in real-time, how aquaculture practices and farming activities could potentially affect these environmental parameters. We will adopt relevant practices from our overseas learning trip and detailed insights gained from our own local studies to suit our Singapore context.
12 To further support Singapore’s ambitions in leading aquaculture research and innovation, we will enhance our R&D facilities to attract more companies and researchers to base themselves here.
13 In November 2022, we launched AquaPolis to transform the aquaculture research landscape.
The brain trust of AquaPolis will comprise scientists from various research institutions – including the National University of Singapore (NUS), Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory and many others. They will work on addressing real world aquaculture challenges to enhance the productivity of farms and the quality of fish farmed in Singapore. For example, by: developing superior fingerlings with traits such as faster growth rates and higher Omega-3 content; and reducing fish mortality from common fish diseases.
14 SFA’s Marine Aquaculture Centre, located on St John’s Island, will serve as the anchor research campus of AquaPolis. We will undertake 2 new initiatives: First, we will enhance its facilities with upgrades, such as the installation of recirculating aquaculture systems for research in intensive farming within closed systems, to cater to evolving R&D needs. Second, we will also embark on a study to review how our future research facilities can be better integrated with other aquaculture infrastructure such as jetties and hatcheries.
15 In the steady state, our Singapore Aquaculture Plan will comprise 3 distinct centres – the West Johor Strait, the East Johor Strait, and AquaPolis in the Southern Waters. This will provide critical diversification of our aquaculture production across 3 different sites and ensure that our aquaculture sector expands in a climate-resilient manner. The enhanced research capabilities and facilities will also be better integrated with aquaculture infrastructure.
Developing a skilled agri-food workforce
16 Ms Cheryl Chan asked about plans to build the manpower pipeline for our farming industry. For students, Republic Polytechnic has broadened the scope of their Diploma in Biotechnology to include a specialisation in Food and Agro-technologies. For mid-career professionals, SFA partnered with Workforce Singapore and Republic Polytechnic in 2022 to launch a Career Conversion Programme to equip them with knowledge and skills as Agri-tech Specialists or Agri-tech Operators. I’m glad to announce that for Nitec and Higher Nitec graduates as well as in-service employees, a new Work-Study Diploma in Agriculture & Aquaculture Technology will be launched by ITE next month. This will provide them with engineering skills to operate new agriculture and aquaculture systems, knowledge about food crops cultivation, and fish farm management. We will therefore have training programs for different segments of the workforce to meet the agri-food industry’s manpower needs.
Raising demand for local produce
17 As we encourage our local farms to produce more, there must be sufficient demand for our local produce. I thank Ms Hany Soh for her suggestion for the Government to demonstrate support for local produce in food procurement. I agree that this is an area we should study further. In February, a new Alliance for Action (AfA) on “Demand Offtake and Consumer Education” was formed, as part of the Forward SG conversation. The AfA includes key members of our local food ecosystem, such as representatives from farms, off-takers such as supermarkets, and trade associations, representing the hotel, the retailers as well as the catering associations, supported by various Government agencies like STB and EnterpriseSG. Together, they will explore solutions to help the Hotel, Restaurants, and Catering sector, as well as our local consumers, embrace local produce. I look forward to hearing their ground up recommendations that will further develop our local agricultural industry.
18 Mr Chairman, in Mandarin please.
新加坡的食品供应超过九成从外地进口，因此食品保障对我国生死存亡至关重要。过去两年，我们都亲身体验到食品供应链受到外来因素干扰所带来的影响。许多消费者已经欣然接受其他的食品选项，例如购买来自澳大利亚, 巴西, 和泰国的鸡肉，或者转而购买鱼和鸡蛋等其他蛋白质食品。
19 为了进一步加强我国食品供应的韧性，我们正努力实现“30·30愿景”, 提高本地农产品的产量，希望在2030年，本地的农产品能满足国人30% 的营养需求。为确保本地农业能持续的增长，下一个关键步骤，必须是增加国人对本地农产品的需求。通过“新加坡携手前进”运动旗下的重点小组讨论，相关的企业代表 （包括农业，食品加工，食品销售，酒店业，饮食业 等）已在今年2月，成立一个新的 “群策群力行动联盟”（AfA）， 共同探讨“需求承购和消费者教育”的新方针。这个行动联盟将探讨我国农产品的整体需求与供应量，并通过各种公共教育计划，加强食品业者与消费者对本地农产品的意识和支持。这个行动联盟所提出的建议，将有助于加强我国食品供应的坚韧性。新加坡农业的发展，将取决于国人对本地农产品的支持。
Deepening our food safety capabilities
20 Ms Nadia Samdin asked how SFA will innovate to bolster its food safety capabilities. SFA is developing Whole Genome Sequencing analytics to better identify the causes of foodborne diseases, and to help prevent outbreaks. We will strengthen SFA’s use of data analytics to identify food establishments with higher risks of food safety lapses, enabling officers to conduct more targeted inspections and educate poorer performing food establishments to tighten their food safety practices.
21 We will also invest in deep technology to ensure that our food safety regime keeps pace with industry innovation. Dr Lim Wee Kiak asked about progress in novel foods. Since SFA approved the sale of cultured meat in 2020, a global first, we have seen a steady increase in applications for the sale of novel foods. Most recently, SFA gave regulatory approval to GOOD Meat for the use of serum-free media in the production of cultivated meat. We will set aside $23 million, under the Singapore Food Story R&D Programme 2.0, the national R&D programme for food, to build new food safety capabilities to cater to developments in the novel foods space. SFA will support research projects to develop new methodologies which aim to provide more timely assessments, including toxicity and allergenicity assessments for novel and alternative proteins.
Inculcating a shared responsibility towards food safety
22 I thank Ms Nadia Samdin for her suggestions to enhance our food safety framework to encourage industry to maintain good food safety standards, including our home-based businesses and food sold through online platforms. Home-based food businesses are not licenced by SFA as they pose relatively low food safety risks due to their small scale. They are still subjected though to prevailing food safety regulations, and should comply with SFA’s regulations and guidelines on proper food handling practices. In January, a new Singapore Standard was launched to guide food e-commerce players on their roles and responsibilities related to food safety. The guidelines were co-developed with a wide range of stakeholders, from food e-commerce platforms to food delivery platforms as well as supermarket retailers. Food safety is a joint responsibility. I am heartened to see strong industry support in committing towards best practices in providing food safety information to consumers and improving traceability and recall along the food e-commerce chain.
Climate Resilience: Enhancing Coastal and Flood Protection
Protecting our coastlines
23 Next, I will touch on coastal and flood protection, which Dr Lim Wee Kiak, Mr Edward Chia, Ms Nadia Samdin as well as Ms Poh Li San asked about. Singapore is a low-lying island. 30 percent of our land area is less than 5 metres above the mean sea level. With climate change, the Centre for Climate Research Singapore estimates that the mean sea level around Singapore could increase by up to 1 metre by 2100. This will affect many stretches of our coastline. Combined with the effects of more sudden and extreme rainfall as well as storm surges, we can expect greater risks to the community, our infrastructure, and our livelihood.
24 PUB, our national coastal protection agency, has been making steady progress, and will periodically refine our coastal protection plans. To Mr Edward Chia’s question, since May 2021, we have progressively launched several studies to understand the characteristics of Singapore’s coastlines and develop targeted coastal protection measures. PUB will commence the next site-specific study for the Sungei Kadut and the Lim Chu Kang area in the second half of this year.
25 I agree with Dr Lim Wee Kiak and Ms Nadia Samdin that these present opportunities to shape climate resilience efforts with the public. In conjunction with the ForwardSG exercise, PUB started the Our Coastal Conversation series, and conducted two dialogue sessions for the City-East Coast area in October 2022. Participants from diverse backgrounds – corporates, community groups, NGOs and even schools – participated in the dialogue and raised interesting perspectives on the tradeoffs that we would need to make to tackle the effects of climate change. For example, how would we retain the scenic views and the convenient access to beaches that we enjoy while at the same time, looking at how we can protect our coastlines, including the coastal nature parks?
26 I would like to reassure Ms Nadia Samdin that we will continue to work closely with our stakeholders, on topics such as coastal protection and marine litter. Last year, we published Singapore’s first National Action Strategy on Marine Litter in consultation with our people, public, and private sectors.
Harnessing Ideas and Innovation
27 In addition to tradeoffs, coastal protection is a long-term endeavour and requires new technologies and innovations, as Ms Poh Li San and Prof Koh Lian Pin had pointed out.
28 I am pleased to announce that we will launch a new dedicated Coastal Protection & Flood Management Research Programme (CFRP), funded by the National Research Foundation, to strengthen long-term coastal protection and inland flood management capabilities in Singapore. The CFRP will provide $125 million to foster research and collaboration across academia and the industry. This will establish a vibrant R&D ecosystem to support the development of innovative coastal protection and flood management solutions. I agree with Prof Koh Lian Pin that we should work with industry and consider solutions that they can offer. The CFRP’s applied research and living lab components will support the test-bedding of inter-disciplinary urban flood solutions and equip our industries with the capability to develop and eventually export the next generation of coastal and flood protection solutions. The CFRP will be anchored by a Centre of Excellence, hosted by NUS. More details will be provided later this year.
Enhancing flood resilience
29 Beyond rising sea levels, climate change will also bring about increased and more intense rainfall as we experienced in the last two days. Ms Nadia Samdin, Ms Poh Li San and Mr Edward Chia asked about drainage and coastal protection infrastructure plans. Mr Edward Chia also asked how these will be financed. Since 2011, the Government has invested around $2 billion on drainage improvement works. We have set aside another $1.4 billion to carry out further improvements to the drainage system from 2021 to 2025. Drainage improvement works in 25 locations are currently ongoing, including the expansion of the Bukit Timah Canal. PUB is exploring solutions that address the combined effects of sea level rise and intense rainfall, and will continue to collaborate with agencies to co-create multi-functional drainage solutions. One funding source is the Coastal and Flood Protection Fund, set up in 2020 with an initial injection of $5 billion.
30 But the cost to expand our drainage to cater to every extreme rainfall event is prohibitive.
We must therefore strengthen our community resilience and collective response to how we deal with floods. I encourage everyone to stay updated on PUB’s flood alerts. Please sign on to their Telegram alerts if you have not done so. And for property owners and developers to ensure that the flood prevention measures in your own developments remain effective.
31 Mr Chairman, as a small city-state with no natural resources, we must adapt and evolve to the constant changes around us. We will continue to strengthen our resilience against existential threats, by reimagining our coastlines as we explore new coastal protection measures, improving our drainage infrastructure to withstand more intense rainfall, and building a more food resilient Singapore. Whether it is mitigating the effects of climate change or strengthening our food resilience, each and every one of us has a role to play. My Ministry will work in partnership with all Singaporeans to build a more resilient Singapore.
32 Thank you.