Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, at the The Local Farm Festival 2023 on 14 April 2023
Mr Kenny Eng, festival director of The Local Farm Festival
Ms Rachel Ong, Adviser to West Coast GRC GROs
Members of the local farm-to-table community
We have been thinking about food security over the last few years very seriously. COVID-19 has taught us the importance of having food security. Climate change and varying weather patterns is teaching us
lessons every day about the need to be climate resilient.
2 So what do we do in Singapore to create the capability to grow food just like how we created capability in the water sector? The availability of clean water and the need to protect our water system with proper wastewater treatment is even more important now as water is becoming more scarce around the world.
3 Some of you may know that we have cheaper source of water from Malaysia and from our reservoirs, but we decided decades ago that we cannot be dependent on one or two sources of water because they are not efficient nor sufficient. And more importantly, what if we have water supply issues? So we decided to invest in the third and the fourth “tap”. They’re more expensive and the technology took a long time to mature to what we have today. But as a nation, as a Government, we felt that that policy of having water security is so crucial to us that we were prepared to invest time and resources to secure that source of water for us. Now, decades later, we have secured water supply. We have desalination and we have water recycling. I think we can breathe more comfortably at night knowing that we have the capability and we have the capacity.
4 Now we have the issue with food. What do we do with food? It’s not an immediate issue. We still have ample supply from many countries. But what if supply is disrupted? What if the condition for growing is affecting a much larger geographical area that we envisage or we are experiencing now? What if the markets that are producing significant proportion of our food face the same climatic issue all at the same time? What do we do then?
5 So we have decided that we need to build up the capability in Singapore in food and that is why we started down this ’30 by 30’ road. This journey is going to be quite a long one. We need to grow a lot more with the same amount of land. The 1 per cent of our land allocated for farming will probably need to grow 6 to 8 times more than what we aredoing now. So we need to really emphasise productivity. We need to be a lot more intense. And in order to give our farmers, who have invested large capital, the security to produce more, the demand needs to be ensured.
6 I recently spoke to someone who shared the struggles her husband was facing in running a local hydroponics farm. He had difficulty finding skilled manpower capable of operating the farm’s systems and faced heavy price competition from vegetables produced overseas.
7 This is where I think we need to really think about helping the farmers to reduce the costs of production in the form of supporting them through SFA’s Agri-Food Cluster Transformation (ACT) Fund. Those who are investing in technology and productivity will receive support by SFA.
8 We are developing infrastructure such as through the Lim Chu Kang Masterplan, where we will put in common infrastructure that can help reduce costs for the farmers. We are thinking about how we can pull agencies together to reduce the barrier to policies for the farmers. We have also developed various industry guidelines on how to build farms to help pass knowledge on to new and aspiring farmers.
9 We are investing in R&D which will help reduce risk from things like weather impact and diseases. This would help farmers to get better outcomes, better yield, better protection from diseases, better vaccines for their fish, and better growing varieties of vegetables. We have started with only a few selected fruit types because each food type requires its own R&D, but we will expand our research and support so that more capability in more varieties can be built up locally.
10 But enough on the supply side. When the farms start to grow and start to increase productivity, what will happen on the demand side? Who is going to buy? How will demand and supply be consolidated? Who’s going to come in with the right quantities so that producers can sit across large businesses like hotels and caterers to discuss offtake? Standardised measurements of quantity and quality of production also need to be established. This is where the Alliance for Action on Demand Offtake and Consumer Education that we announced in February is going to play a critical role.
11 The AfA will try to consolidate demand and establish relationships with the farmers. Without such a mechanism, a single farmer by themselves may be too small at this point to really have any meaningful contracts. But together as a group, together with standards, quantity, and quality of products, we can start having meaningful contractual relationships. This will hopefully start a continuous long term sustained off-take that will provide at least a base load to our farmers.
12 This is really an exciting journey. Each one of the areas I have spoken about on supply, production, creating infrastructure, creating demand, expanding the types of food being produced in Singapore, has tremendous opportunity and potential for every one of us to participate in. But it needs persistence. It needs perseverance. It needs some deep capital to be in this. Singapore is going to invest serious resources, and we expect industry to similarly reciprocate.
13 We can do this, but we need to work together. All of us, not just producers and off-takers, but all of us as consumers as well. We can make a difference through the choices, what you buy, what you are eating and demanding from F&B establishments. And when you show that there’s real appreciation of the hard work of our farmers, the businesses will respond. A festival like this shows that building up a strong ecosystem between suppliers, off-takers and consumers is possible and it is critical to the development of the industry.
14 You can have the assurance that the Government will be supporting you all the way because we are really in it together. Just like our water story, our food story is going to be an exciting one. It’s going to be very hard. It took us many decades to get to where we are in terms of water. It took us 30 years from the time we set up the first water recycling plant in 1970s to when we first introduced NEWater. I hope that we will take a shorter period with food, but it is going to be long and arduous journey, not for the faint hearted. But to those who have a strong conviction and passion about what you are doing to write a story of food in Singapore – welcome aboard, and all the best in your journey.
15 Thank you very much.