SPEECH BY MS GRACE FU, MINISTER FOR SUSTAINABILITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT AT THE GROW ASIA INVESTMENT FORUM ON 12 SEPTEMBER 2023
Ms Beverley Postma, Executive Director, Grow Asia
Distinguished guests. Good morning.
1 I am pleased to join you today at Grow Asia’s Investment Forum 2023. I would like to thank Grow Asia for its continued efforts to strengthen and develop sustainable agriculture and reliable food supplies across Southeast Asia. This is a crucial area of work.
2 Our global food system is facing challenging times. Around the world, climate change and geopolitical tensions are causing significant disruptions to global food supplies. The war in Ukraine significantly disrupted grain and fertiliser export from the breadbasket of Europe. This fuelled inflation and prompted several countries to introduce export restrictions to protect domestic food supplies.
3 We are also increasingly seeing the impacts of climate change on food production yields. Last year saw multiple temperature records being broken, and extreme weather events such as floods and heavy rainfall impacting multiple regions. These are stark reminders of the vulnerability of the global food system, and even more so, the urgent need for a resilient and sustainable food system in Asia.
4 Food systems are not mere victims of climate change. It is also a cause of climate change. Through land clearing, loss of biodiversity, the irresponsible use of pesticides, fungicides impacting the environment, serious creation of greenhouse gases in the process of agriculture. It is really our responsibility to look at how we can make it good.
5 One thing is clear – that we must place food security as a priority. We need to transform our food systems to achieve better productivity, climate-resilience, and resource-efficiency. This will require more financing, innovation and collaboration.
6 And this is where the Grow Asia Investment Forum can play an important role. “Investing in Food System Transformation” can drive transformative change in our region through partnerships in blended finance, innovation in sustainable agricultural development, and collaboration to improve livelihoods of farming communities.
7 By leveraging climate finance through a public-private blended financing model, to the tune of US$1b, the GrowBeyond Fund has the potential of supporting over 200,000 farmers over the next 10 years to access finance and technical assistance. This model builds upon public private partnerships, by combining public and private funds to leverage the strengths of both sectors, to address the needs of food systems transformation.
8 It is estimated that with these investments, farms will see an increase in productivity of up to 30 per cent, and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of up to 30 per cent. Such impact investments are what the world needs now. It will not only strengthen the region’s food security but also contribute towards environment sustainability.
9 Technology and innovation will be a key enabler for the region’s food system transformation. In Singapore, we are working with our agri-food industry to build our capability and capacity to produce 30 per cent of our nutritional needs in a sustainable manner by 2030.
10 To achieve this, we are investing in R&D and supporting our farms in their take-up of productive farm systems. Under the Singapore Food Story R&D programme, we have committed more than $300 million to fund innovative research projects that address key challenges of our agrifood industry. These include urban agriculture and aquaculture practices, future foods and food safety.
11 For instance, we have awarded two projects led by NUS and Republic Polytechnic to improve the shelf-life and nutritional quality of commonly consumed local vegetables such as kailan, bok choy and choy sum. Such translational R&D efforts will also be relevant to agri-food industries in the region and help to enhance our collective food security.
12 We are supporting our farms in deploying technology to raise productivity, by co-funding farming infrastructure and systems. First through the Agriculture Productivity Fund (APF), and now with the S$60 million Agri-Food Cluster Transformation (ACT) Fund.
13 Many farms have tapped on these funds to deploy technology and innovation. Take Green Harvest for instance, which had tapped on the APF for capability upgrading. They have invested in a new modern greenhouse and transformed from a soil-based conventional vegetable farming to a highly mechanised and automated, climate-controlled growing techniques without the use of pesticides, and with only 19 workers on-site. With a plot size of 2 hectares, they are expected to produce 700 tonnes per hectare per year. This is more than 5 times the average productivity of traditional farming methods.
14 Beyond research, we are supporting our industry by optimising land use through holistic land planning and innovative design. With less than 1% of our land set aside for agri-food production, we have to ‘grow more with less’.
15 We are transforming the Lim Chu Kang region into a vibrant, productive agri-food cluster, with the active participation of our farmers and stakeholders. The region is being planned with possible features such as: infrastructure to support high productivity farming; shared services and facilities, such as solid waste treatment, packing facilities for farms to achieve economies of scale; and circular economy principles to optimise resource use.
16 How do we encourage farmers to pull resources together, allowing the waste stream of one entity to be used as input of another? Having that facilitation in a small area in Lim Chu Kang will reduce the logistical requirements, and the carbon footprint of the entire sector. That is really the vision of a highly productive, resource resilient and sustainable model of agriculture in Singapore.
17 We are also transforming our sea spaces to unlock the potential for sustainable fish farming. We are working closely with the aquaculture industry, academics, and nature groups to increase productivity in an environmentally sustainable way.
18 Collaboration is key in this transformation. I am glad this forum has brought together many like-minded stakeholders and senior leaders across various sectors. The transformation of our food systems will require more financing, innovation and collaboration. When we put our minds together and tap on the strengths and networks of other stakeholders, we can achieve far greater outcomes.
19 I encourage you to make full use of this forum to exchange knowledge, explore collaborations, and take steps closer to the solutions we need to strengthen our region’s food security. There will be further platforms in Singapore to exchange knowledge and explore collaborations, such as the Singapore International Agri-food Week later this year. I would like to invite you to join us then.
20 Let me conclude. The challenges facing our region’s food security are already at our doorstep, and we must act decisively to build the resilience of our food supplies. Yet, the challenges on hand are bigger than any single country alone. We must work together, tap on one another’s strengths, and collaborate to ultimately achieve a win-win outcome.
21 Once again, thank you Grow Asia for inviting me to speak at this summit. I wish you all a fruitful forum ahead.