DPM Lawrence Wong at the Launch of the "Feeding Our Future" Exhibition

DPM Lawrence Wong | 2 September 2023

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong at the Launch of the "Feeding Our Future" Exhibition on 2 September 2023.

My Parliamentary Colleague Ms Grace Fu,
Chairman and CEO of the Singapore Food Agency, Mr Lim Chuan Poh and Mr Lim Kok Thai
Chairman and CEO of the Singapore Agro-Food Enterprises Federation Mr George Huang and Mr Ken Cheong,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning! I am happy to join all of you for the launch of the “Feeding our Future” Exhibition.

Food is a topic close to the heart of all Singaporeans. It is a big part of our lives. As a diverse, multi-cultural society, we enjoy a wide variety of food options. Many of our important customs and traditions are built around food. It is a reason why a key part of our Singaporean identity is about our distinctive hawker culture - how food brings together all of us and builds shared experiences and memories.

What makes all this possible is access to a wide variety of fresh food produce. We have enjoyed this access in Singapore for so long that it is easy to take the security of our food supply for granted. But, as we all know, most of what we eat is imported, and vulnerable to supply disruptions.

We saw this in recent years, when global food supplies were disrupted. One reason for the disruption was the war in Ukraine. It may seem like a remote far-away event with no implications to us. But in fact it has profound far reaching consequences for everyone especially in food. Because Ukraine is a major global exporter of grain, wheat and fertiliser. So when the war broke out, the prices of everyday essentials like rice and bread increased worldwide. This also contributed to a shortage of chicken feed and supplies. This impacted Malaysia, and that is why Malaysia eventually banned the export of live chickens to Singapore last year. So it was a series of knock on effects – you may think it initially had nothing to do with Singapore, but in the end it still had everything to do with us.

The situation has since stabilised. But we must be prepared for new disruptions in food supply. The war in Ukraine is still ongoing, and is not likely to be resolved anytime soon. You could have unpredictable situations breaking out from that war.

As a result of climate change, we can also expect erratic and extreme weather patterns. Some people think climate change is something that will only happen in the distant future; but in fact it is already happening today – we can already see more frequent intense rainfall and prolonged dry spells around the world. In the coming months, the situation will be made worse by the El Nino phenomenon. This is something that occurs once every few years and raises global temperatures temporarily.

So when you have the combination in the coming year of a severe El Nino on top of global warming – this is likely to result in record high temperatures, extreme heat and dry weather in many parts of the world, which will all impact crop yields globally. Indeed, this has already led countries like India implementing export restrictions on food items this year. So we must brace ourselves for more disruptions to come.

All this means is that global food supplies will remain volatile for the foreseeable future. There will be impact on Singapore. And as a small country reliant on imports for our food needs, we will have to adapt to this new reality.

What can we do to make our food supply more resilient? The exhibition today showcases three key strategies.

The first – and this is the main strategy that we ae pursuing - is to diversify our imported food sources. It is our main strategy because frankly we can only import. What else can we do in Singapore? We will have to continue to import, but we can diversify our food imports so that we do not become overly-reliant on any one source. Then in the event of a disruption from one source, we can switch to other options.

This is something we have been working on continuously. And we will continue to put greater effort into this. That is why over the past year, we have opened up new food sources – we can now import eggs from Brunei, and live chickens for slaughter from Indonesia. The Singapore Food Agency will continue to accredit more food sources to give importers wider options. Over time, with some of these trusted and reliable import sources, we can establish long term agreements for more reliable supply as well.

Second, we are building up our capacity to stockpile essential items. It’s very expensive to stockpile. But what we do is to consider the key food groups that are necessary from a national standpoint for survival through an emergency. So we looked at our nutritional needs in terms of carbohydrates, proteins and fibre, and then we stockpile key food items like rice for carbohydrate, frozen chicken for protein and canned vegetables for fibre to meet these needs. In other words, we do not just go around and stockpile every single food item. It is not possible. But we will have enough to withstand a major disruption to our food imports in the event of an emergency.

If such a calamity were ever to befall Singapore, we will have to make sacrifices. We will have to forgo access to some of our favourite foods, but we will not starve. We will have sufficient to keep our basic nutritional needs going. So that is what stockpiling is about. It is not to stockpile your favourite foods items or your favourite snacks. That is not possible. But to make sure that we have enough to meet our basic nutritional needs in the event of an emergency.

Third, we are enhancing our local food production. With limited land, obviously we cannot grow all the food we need. And given our overlying cost structures in labour, in utilities, in fact it will be very had for local food production to be competitive. But if we can make our existing agri-food sector more resource-efficient, more productive, then hopefully local production can complement our first two strategies and serve as a meaningful buffer for Singapore in times of need.

That is why we aim to be able to produce 30% of our local nutritional needs by 2030, up from less than 10% today. That is a big jump from less than 10% today to the ability to produce 30% of our local nutritional needs by 2030. This is really an aspirational vision. But realising it will require us to build new capabilities and industry capacity.

That’s why we are developing the Agri-Food Innovation Park in the Sungei Kadut Eco-District, just north of here. This will hopefully catalyse innovation in agri-tech and food manufacturing. And we are also developing a high tech agri-food zone at Lim Chu Kang. This new agri food zone at Lim Chu Kang is about 390 hectares in size, that is about 600 football fields. Given how limited land supply we have in Singapore, it is actually a very generous allocation to make sure that we will be able to have the capacity to produce locally if needed.

In order for local production to be viable, we really need to rely on technology. We will need to develop and adopt new technologies and farming methods that are suitable to our environment, both the dense urban environment as well as the cost, and make local production much more productive than it is today.

Today’s exhibition showcases some of the ideas being explored, from stacked farms as well as multi-purpose land which can integrate farming and other uses. We also need to find ways to make better use of other scarce resources like water. For all of these new areas, we are working very closely with our Institutes of Higher Learning, research institutions and industry partners.

That is why I am very glad that we have with us today many home-grown food companies represented here. Just to name a few we have Sustenir Agriculture, N&N Agriculture, Singapore Aquaculture Technologies, Chew’s Agriculture, Green Harvest, The Fish Farmer and many others. Many of you are already investing in new technologies and new methods of production. Your efforts will contribute to a more food-secure future for Singapore.

Of course, all of our local food companies are well supported by the Singapore Agro-Food Enterprises Federation as well. Our companies together with the federation are doing their part to contribute to a more food secure future for Singapore. Thank you everyone for your efforts and contributions!

Creating a more food resilient Singapore is a collective responsibility is a collective responsibility, everyone has to do their part. Food importers for example, can do their part. Instead of just buying from the cheapest source, and then becoming overly reliant on that source, they can aim to import from multiple sources. This will allow food importers to pivot to alternative suppliers quickly during a supply disruption. This makes good business sense too, because it is about managing risks and ensuring business continuity.

Consumers have an important part to play. As consumers, each of us can make a difference through our food choices. So when Malaysia banned its chicken exports, fortunately many consumers were willing to be flexible and were prepared to switch to chilled and frozen chicken. Your chicken rice may taste a bit different, but frankly, I think they were able to do good chicken rice even with chilled and frozen chicken. I think if you subject many to a blind test, you cannot really tell the difference. Importantly, consumers must be prepared to make the switch. Fortunately, during that period of disruption, many were prepared to do so.

As consumers, we can also do our part to support our local farms and businesses that use local produce. It will cost a bit more because production will be more expensive than imports, but the food will be fresher, and this also helps make our food supply more resilient. So when we support our local farms and businesses that use local produce, we as consumers are also doing our part to create a more resilient food future for Singapore.

These are our 3 main strategies to collectively adapt to an increasingly volatile and uncertain global food supply. Individually, each of these strategies will not be sufficient to meet our needs. But together, they can strengthen our food resilience, and position us well for the future.

In the end, as a small open city state with no natural resources, Singapore will always be vulnerable to global shocks and disruptions. But if our history has taught us anything, it is that we can overcome our challenges and limitations through our collective wit, effort and ingenuity. Just look at what we have achieved so far in this journey of our nation.

We have no water, but we developed NEWater. We have no natural resources, but yet we become a hub for energy and other critical supplies. We don’t have enough land, but we reclaim land from the sea, and we make the most of our limited space with very innovative urban solutions.

Each time we were pushed to the limit, we did not fold or crumble. Instead, we gritted our teeth, worked even harder to defy the odds, and we bounced back stronger. That is the Singapore Story. So let us work together to beat the odds again – to feed our future, to write a new chapter for our food story and to keep our Singapore Story going, for many more generations to come.

Thank you very much.