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Securing Singapore's future (II/II): the 30 by 30 food security initiative

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By Alex Hong

· 13 min read


Current gaps

While Singapore's "30 by 30" effort is a noteworthy step towards achieving food security, it is important to recognise the country's current food security shortcomings. Addressing these flaws is critical to the initiative's success.

Shortcomings in the current food security environment

  • Limited Land Availability: The shortage of arable land in Singapore is a big challenge. With a growing population and limited agricultural acreage, meeting the 30% local output objective by 2030 remains a daunting undertaking. There are calls for the government to take a strategic interest in land usage, particularly for agritech, in order to increase the viability of high-tech farming in Singapore as part of national interests. 
  • Water Scarcity: Water is a key resource for agriculture; however, due to its small size and limited freshwater sources, Singapore experiences water scarcity. To overcome this barrier, effective water management and sustainable irrigation technologies are required. Technology exists for advanced sensors, monitoring, irrigation, and the provision of natural fertilisers for agricultural purposes. Its expansion would benefit from assistance and greater integration towards scalability. The use of Newater technology in Singapore might also be better integrated into a sustainable energy system. 
  • Reliance on Imports: Despite efforts to increase domestic production, Singapore will continue to rely on food imports for a significant share of its needs. Disruptions in global supply systems, such as those seen during the COVID-19 epidemic, emphasise the dangers of this reliance. Integration into international agricultural investments and shared development can provide consistent product supply while also growing domestic supply to shore up strategic reserves. ASEAN continues to have a realistic and promising potential for increased collaboration towards shared food security while meeting our ecological goals.

Issues related to land use, water resources, and food waste

  • Land Use Conflicts: Land competition is severe in Singapore, with numerous sectors vying for limited areas. It is challenging to strike a balance between urban development, green space, and agricultural land use. Finally, agritech must be done at scale in order to lower, if not eliminate, the "green premium" and attain mainstream acceptance and competitiveness. To not only create a viable business but also to speed its development at scale, authorities will need to engage in open and honest dialogue with stakeholders.
  • Water Efficiency: Water efficiency is critical for long-term agricultural success. Singapore must continue to invest in cutting-edge water management solutions such as wastewater recycling for agricultural use. A systems approach to water use will be suitable for identifying long-term efficiency potential.
  • Food Waste Reduction: Food waste is still a major problem around the world, especially in Singapore. The country's efforts to eliminate food waste throughout the supply chain, from farm to fork, must be stepped up. Being a wealthy city-state also works against our genuine desire to reduce food waste in order to lower production and processing costs. This will necessitate continual multi-stakeholder discussions in order to reduce food waste and implement more effective process, disposal, and reusing systems.

To close these gaps, Singapore must pursue innovative solutions like vertical farming and hydroponics that maximise land use efficiency while lowering water usage. Furthermore, ongoing research and development activities are required to improve food production methods and lessen agriculture's environmental footprint.

Singapore's "30 by 30" plan recognises these issues and demonstrates the country's determination to overcome them. Singapore intends to establish a more resilient and sustainable food system by addressing these shortcomings head-on, assuring the well-being of its inhabitants in the face of complex and interlinked food security concerns.

ASEAN's role

In the pursuit of food security, Singapore's "30 by 30" effort not only acts as a national undertaking but also provides vital lessons for the greater ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region. Collaborative actions across ASEAN can considerably improve regional food security and resilience. ASEAN must collaborate closely as a regional body to extract comparative advantage from its member countries in order to emerge strong, united, and with a better-shared future in terms of food security, among many other major strategic integration prospects such as energy grid, transportation, and sustainable finance.

Collaborative approaches for regional food security

  • Resource Sharing: ASEAN member countries have a wide range of resources and climates. Collaborative arrangements can allow nations to specialise in crops suited to their climates and optimise regional food production by permitting the sharing of agricultural information and best practises. Each member has a strategic advantage that may provide ASEAN with a wider range of foods while also spreading risks. 
  • Supply Chain Integration: Cross-border collaboration can help to streamline regional food supply chains. This integration eliminates inefficiencies, improves distribution networks, and promotes the cross-border flow of food goods, making food more accessible and inexpensive for all. ASEAN will also benefit from improved transportation connections, digitalization, authentication/providence (Blockchain), and trade finance, to name a few. 
  • Research and Innovation: ASEAN can form research cooperation to address similar agricultural concerns such as the effects of climate change and pest management. Collaboration on research can lead to breakthroughs in sustainable farming practises. Singapore has always been a centre for education and research. Agriculture technology advancements, IoT, smart irrigation, and greenfield industries such as alternative protein can scale or testbed better with a huge market like ASEAN.

Importance of cross-border cooperation

  • Resilience to Shocks: Collaborative food security measures strengthen the region's resilience to global shocks like pandemics and trade disruptions. ASEAN states can respond to crises cooperatively by dispersing food supplies throughout the region. This must begin with the understanding that a united ASEAN is far more powerful in good times and far more resilient in bad. 
  • Economic Stability: Improved regional food security fosters economic stability by lowering member countries' exposure to variable global food prices. An ASEAN that is more self-sufficient can weather external economic shocks better. Closer collaboration among ASEAN leaders can promote a better understanding and standardisation of contemporary concerns such as taxonomy, ESG standards, and so on. This will result in increased commonality and improved investment flows, resulting in an economically stable ASEAN. 
  • Environmental Sustainability: Cooperation on sustainable agriculture practises can help to reduce the environmental impact of food production. ASEAN nations can work together to address challenges such as deforestation and water management to ensure long-term ecological sustainability. The regional haze issue has remained a chance for ASEAN to collaborate towards a common goal. Again, but with the realisation that the success or failure of any ASEAN member country influences our collective destiny. This will also be true for ASEAN's environmental and regenerative goals.

ASEAN is critical to improving regional food security. ASEAN can establish a more resilient and sustainable food system for the entire region by encouraging collaboration among member states, pooling resources, and cooperatively solving common concerns. Singapore's "30 by 30" project is an excellent paradigm for how nations should collaborate to protect the well-being of their citizens and build a more food-secure future for all.

Ministries' contribution

Singapore's "30 by 30" food security strategy necessitates a collaborative effort across government agencies. Through policy changes, incentives, and collaboration, each ministry may play a critical role in supporting the project.

Government ministries' support

  • Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE): MSE can lead the way by proposing and implementing policies that encourage sustainable agriculture and prevent food waste. They can give incentives for urban farming initiatives, facilitate research on sustainable farming practises, and control food safety standards to assure the quality of locally produced food.
  • Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI): MTI can concentrate on trade policies that maintain food import security and price stability. They can also encourage investments in food infrastructure, such as cold storage facilities, to lessen the vulnerability of the food supply chain.
  • Ministry of National Development (MND): MND can help with land-use planning in order to allot space for urban farming and create an atmosphere favourable to agricultural innovation. They can collaborate with city planners to incorporate food production into the urban landscape.
  • Ministry of Education (MOE): MOE may integrate agricultural education into the school curriculum to foster future generations of farmers and champions for sustainable agriculture. They can also help to fund initiatives that encourage students to get involved in urban agricultural projects.
  • Incubators and Accelerators: These groups can provide the incentive for additional agritech firms to flourish and thrive in Singapore. Incubators and Accelerators can create an atmosphere for knowledge sharing, mentorship, and collaboration, allowing agritech to grow. Some of these organisations have access to funds provided by government-backed authorities in order to stimulate innovation.

Policy changes and incentives

  • Incentive Programs: Authorities can implement incentive programmes to help local farmers, such as grants for adopting sustainable farming practises, tax breaks for agri-tech investments, and subsidies for urban agricultural infrastructure development. 
  • Regulatory Frameworks: Developing clear and supportive laws for urban agriculture can help ambitious farmers overcome barriers to entry. Zoning restrictions, land use policies, and safety standards for urban farming operations are all included.
  • Research and Development: Agriculture research and development money can be allocated by ministries to encourage innovation in areas like as climate-resilient crops, sophisticated farming methods, and effective resource use. There needs to be opportunities to co-develop technologies and to implement them at scale. 
  • Public-Private Partnerships: Collaborations between government agencies, commercial businesses, and research institutes can help to speed progress towards food security goals. The growth of private equity in Singapore may present an opportunity for the agritech sector.

The future of Singapore's "30 by 30" initiative is dependent on the active participation and collaboration of numerous government ministries. By harmonising policies, offering incentives, and encouraging innovation, these ministries may together contribute to the creation of a resilient and sustainable food system that assures the well-being of Singapore's population and serves as an example for other nations experiencing similar issues.

Needs of agritech farmers

The success of Singapore's "30 by 30" plan is primarily reliant on agritech farmers' cooperation and empowerment. These forward-thinking agricultural businesses are altering the city-state's food production landscape. Here's a look at what agritech farmers need to succeed, with an emphasis on technology, money, and education.

Technology integration

  • Advanced Farming Technologies: Agritech farmers require access to cutting-edge technologies such as vertical farming systems, hydroponics, and aquaponics. These technologies enable efficient, year-round production in regulated conditions, maximising yields while minimising resource usage.
  • Data Analytics and IoT: Real-time monitoring and data analytics solutions are critical for crop growth optimisation. Sensors and IoT devices provide information about temperature, humidity, nutrient levels, and more, allowing for exact adjustments for optimal plant growth. These sensors can also provide verifiable emission data for analysis and for carbon credit offset, thereby help accelerate sustainability transition and investments within the agritech space. 

Funding and support

  • Financial Support: Access to capital is essential for agritech farmers looking to invest in infrastructure and technology. Government grants, subsidies, and venture capital investments can offer startups and existing agritech enterprises with the required financial backing. The agritech industry needs to be both a strategic industry and a bankable/investable business model. 
  • Research and Development Grants: Support for R&D programmes enables agritech farmers to innovate and improve their farming skills. Grants for sustainable agriculture research initiatives can lead to advancements in food production. 

Education and training

  • Agricultural Education: Farmers who use agritech benefit from educational programmes that provide them with the information and skills required for sustainable agriculture. Plant biology, agronomy, and agricultural engineering training and even data analytics are required for success.
  • Entrepreneurship Training: Agritech businesses require more than simply farming to be successful. Agritech farmers might benefit from entrepreneurship training in areas such as business creation, marketing, and financial management. Various incubators and accelerators in both educational institutions and private organisations can provide agritech startups with mentorship, assistance, and further chances. 
  • Collaborative Networks: Developing relationships within the agritech community and with research institutes promotes knowledge exchange and collaboration. Networks connect you with mentors, partners, and vital resources. A rising "circle of help" in the agritech field will allow for a speedier transfer from knowledge to implementation.

To prosper, agritech farmers in Singapore require a full ecosystem of support. Access to innovative farming technologies, proper funding, and extensive education and training are critical components of this ecosystem. Singapore's "30 by 30" project can catalyse a sustainable and resilient food production system for the future by providing agritech farmers with the necessary tools and resources.

Envisioning agritech in Singapore can be challenging even when it is undoubtedly a noble endeavour. When asked about the possible improvements in terms of support from the authorities, James Yin, Co-Founder & CEO, Vplus Agritech commented, “To make strides in innovation, the government must unify its policies across all agencies. Singapore's success in promoting skyrise greenery is a prime example of how policies aligned by agencies such as URA, BCA and NParks can generate a positive cycle. Similarly, to establish urban farms, a concerted effort is required. The government can assist farmers in not only starting their farms, but also building commercially viable agribusinesses. This would necessitate creating policies to shift local demand and help local produce compete with cheaper imports.”

Call to action

The Singapore government's "30 by 30" plan for food security is more than simply a national effort; it's a call to action for the entire world. The importance of ensuring food security cannot be stressed as we traverse the difficult challenges of the twenty-first century.

The urgency of food security

  • Global Population Growth: With the world population expected to reach over 10 billion by 2050, food demand is increasing. It is a moral obligation to ensure that everyone has access to safe, healthy food.
  • Climate Change: Climate change has a big impact on food production. Erratic weather patterns, catastrophic occurrences, and altering growing seasons endanger world food supplies.
  • Vulnerability of Supply Chains: Recent supply chain disruptions, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, have highlighted the vulnerability of our global food systems. It is critical to achieve self-sufficiency in food production in order to mitigate such hazards.

Public awareness and participation

  • Education: It is critical to raise public knowledge about the importance of sustainable agriculture and the "30 by 30" campaign. Citizens can be educated about the benefits of supporting local food production through educational initiatives. This would also have an effect on the reduction of food waste through the understanding of the national imperative towards food security. 
  • Community Engagement: Encouragement of community gardens, urban farming initiatives, and engagement in sustainable food practises develops a shared sense of responsibility for food security. Growing food can become a national lifestyle that transcends all socioeconomic boundaries. 

Long-term sustainability

  • Sustainable Practices: Stress that the "30 by 30" effort is not a quick fix, but rather a long-term commitment to sustainability. Emphasise the significance of environmentally friendly farming practises, resource conservation, and responsible consumption. It would also enhance every citizen’s (given enough time) understanding of his/her role in supporting national food security. 
  • Innovation and Research: Emphasise the importance of ongoing innovation and research in order to adapt to changing problems. Encourage agritech investment and the creation of climate-resistant agricultural types. Such investments in agritech would require a longer-term view and greater understanding from all stakeholders. 

Singapore's "30 by 30" project acts as a beacon of hope and a blueprint for addressing the world food security challenge. It emphasises the critical need to safeguard our food future in the face of population increase, climate change, and supply chain vulnerabilities. To succeed, we must all respond to this call to action, from people and communities to nations and international organisations. We can work together to create a resilient, sustainable, and food-secure future for future generations.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Alex Hong is the Executive Director of Digipulse Data and strategic advisor. He is the Chief Sustainability Coordinator of the Youth Networking Business Committee (YNBC). Alex is LinkedIn’s Top Voices (Green) in Singapore 2022 and represents the Global Blockchain Business Council (GBBC) as the Ambassador of Southeast Asia.

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