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

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By Alex Hong

· 17 min read


Introduction

The Singapore government's "30 by 30" plan is a visionary endeavour that has earned global notice and admiration. This ambitious promise intends to improve food security in the city-state by generating 30% of its nutritional needs locally by 2030, reducing dependency on food imports. We go into the many features of this programme in this extensive essay, emphasising its importance, consequences, success factors, and important role in tackling food security and sustainability concerns in the modern world.

As the globe grapples with a fast-rising population, climate change-induced disruptions, and vulnerabilities in global supply systems, guaranteeing food security has become a necessity. Singapore, a country with limited arable land and natural resources, has embarked on a journey that not only assures its own food future but also serves as a model for metropolitan centres throughout the world. The "30 by 30" initiative is a beacon of hope, illustrating how innovation, technology, and ecological practises can convert urban settings into hotspots of food production resilience.

In the following sections, we examine the complexities of this endeavour, including its significance for Singapore, potential repercussions, critical success factors, the link between food security and climate change, current gaps, and the role of regional collaboration. We also emphasise the relevance of public awareness, government support, and agritech farmers' demands in this transforming path. Finally, this commentary serves as a call to action, emphasising the importance of achieving food security and the long-term viability of this ground-breaking effort.

Significance for Singapore's future

The significance of the 30 by 30 initiative cannot be overstated, and its importance reverberates on multiple fronts:

  • Economic resilience: By meeting the 30 by 30 target, Singapore will be less vulnerable to price changes and disruptions in the global food market. This translates into economic stability and less inflationary pressure on living costs.
  • Environmental sustainability: Singapore hopes to lower its carbon footprint related to food transportation by increasing local food production. This is consistent with the company's commitment to environmental sustainability and climate action.
  • Social welfare: Improving food security ensures that the population has access to nutritious and secure food. This is especially important for vulnerable groups of society, as it prevents food insecurity.

Consider the context to understand the significance: Singapore imports more than 90% of its food, making it vulnerable to global uncertainty. As extreme weather events affect agricultural systems around the world, climate change adds another degree of complication. Singapore's "30 by 30" plan is a proactive reaction to these difficulties, strengthening resilience and decreasing vulnerabilities.

In addition to the previous points raised, this project is consistent with global sustainability objectives. Singapore decreases its carbon footprint connected with long-distance food transportation and promotes sustainable urban agriculture practises by expanding local food production. In essence, it is a step towards a more sustainable, safe, and self-sufficient future for Singapore, as well as an inspiring example for governments throughout the world addressing food security challenges.

The 30 by 30 project serves as a beacon of resilience and forward-thinking in a world beset by climate change, resource shortages, and geopolitical uncertainty. Singapore's commitment to accomplishing this goal not only demonstrates its resilience but also serves as an example for other countries looking to guarantee their food futures in an increasingly uncertain world.

Importance of the 30 by 30 initiative

Crucial for Singapore's food security

Food security in Singapore is critical, especially in light of the worldwide epidemic and supply chain disruptions. Singapore is vulnerable to external interruptions since it relies significantly on food imports to meet its nutritional needs. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the vulnerability of global supply chains, emphasising the importance of self-sufficiency in food production. By improving food security through efforts like "30 by 30," Singapore may reduce disruption risks, protect its population's well-being, and increase its resilience in the face of unforeseen crises. This strategic strategy not only provides a consistent food supply, but it also adds to the country's overall economic and social stability, establishing Singapore as a model for sustainable and resilient urban food systems. Food security stands at the forefront of Singapore's strategic priorities. The "30 by 30" initiative is of paramount importance for several reasons:

  • Resilience against global shocks: The COVID-19 outbreak highlighted the brittleness of global supply chains. Singapore's reliance on food imports, with over 90% of its food originating from outside the country, exposes it to supply interruptions caused by international crises, trade conflicts, or natural calamities. Obtaining food self-sufficiency reduces this danger.
  • Food security as a national imperative: Food security is a strategic objective in Singapore, not just a question of convenience. A safe food supply guarantees social stability, economic development, and citizens' well-being.
  • Environmental sustainability: The project is in line with Singapore's commitment to environmental sustainability. Singapore contributes to global efforts to mitigate climate change by decreasing the carbon footprint associated with food imports and encouraging sustainable urban agriculture practises.

Vulnerability of relying on food imports

Singapore's vulnerability to food imports is underscored by both statistics and real-world events:

  • Statistical evidence: Singapore's reliance on imports is reflected in the country's low level of food self-sufficiency, which now stands at less than 10%. This means that the vast bulk of its food supply is sourced from outside sources.
  • Global supply chain disruptions: Pandemic-induced interruptions in global supply chains in 2020 caused delays and price increases in Singapore's key food staples. Such occurrences serve as sharp warnings of the dangers of over-reliance on imports.
  • Climate change impacts: Climate change is posing an increasing danger to global food production. Extreme weather phenomena, such as droughts and floods, have the potential to disrupt agricultural systems, influencing the availability and pricing of imported food.

The "30 by 30" project is essentially a strategic solution to ensuring Singapore's food security and resilience by lowering its vulnerability to external shocks. Singapore intends to secure a stable, sustainable, and resilient food supply for its people in the face of an increasingly uncertain global landscape by increasing local food production.

Implications for Singapore

Economic, social, and environmental benefits

The "30 by 30" initiative carries profound implications for Singapore that extend across economic, social, and environmental dimensions.

Economic benefits

  • Economic resilience: Singapore decreases its exposure to variable global food prices and supply chain disruptions by increasing local food production. This resilience can protect the economy from the negative consequences of exogenous shocks.
  • Job creation: The growth of a sustainable urban agriculture sector creates job opportunities. It boosts economic growth by producing jobs in agriculture, technology, logistics, and other associated businesses. It offers a new form of entrepreneurship and for more people to be “plugged-in” to what it means to pivot towards circularity. 

Social benefits

  • Food security: Increasing food self-sufficiency improves Singapore's food security. In times of crisis, it guarantees that important food commodities are available to the populace, lowering the possibility of shortages and price increases. Singapore, being a city-state of limited land and would need to look at creative ways to optimise technology for food production.
  • Community engagement: The "30 by 30" concept promotes community participation in urban farming efforts. It increases communal cohesion and develops a sense of shared responsibility for food production. Hydroculture and even Aquaculture is readily available for households to grow their plants and fish to familiarise themselves with food production, food safety and food resilience. 

Environmental benefits:

  • Reduced carbon footprint: Long-distance food imports contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Singapore reduces its carbon impact by producing food locally, which aligns with global sustainability goals. Technology enhancements in sensors, analytics, nutrients and irrigation has also made it possible to grow food with less emissions footprint. What’s more, verified reduction in emissions can also be used as emissions offset to help with the sustainability/regenerative pivot.
  • Sustainable agriculture: Vertical farming and hydroponics are two examples of sustainable urban farming practises promoted by the programme. These technologies consume less land and water, use fewer pesticides, and produce less waste, resulting in a more environmentally friendly food production system. Indoor farming will also help protect crops and animals from increasingly unpredictable weather to prevent losses due to climate change. 

Addressing risks of food supply disruptions

The initiative directly addresses the risks associated with food supply disruptions:

  • Supply chain resilience: Singapore's reliance on complicated foreign supply chains is reduced, making it less vulnerable to disruptions caused by geopolitical tensions, trade disputes, or pandemics. The exploration of a systems-wide approach to look at processes will also reduce supply chain emission footprint (e.g. electrification of transport).
  • Climate resilience: Singapore is taking proactive measures to adapt to climate change's effects on food production. It can better cope with extreme weather events that damage global agriculture systems by enhancing local food production.
  • AgriTech focus: Singapore is increasingly focused on implementing high tech farming to enhance food production, increase yields and increase resilience. The country has also embarked on the use of precision fermentation and the creation of alternative proteins to look for creative ways to enhance the food supply.

Singapore's audacious "30 by 30" project promises not just improved food security but also a slew of economic, social, and environmental advantages. Singapore is positioning itself as a global leader in sustainable urban food production by addressing vulnerabilities and promoting resilience, offering an example for other nations to follow in these times of uncertainty and transition. 

When asked about the importance of agritech to Singapore’s food security and our national challenge, James Yin, Co-founder & CEO, Vplus Agritech commented, “With urbanisation consuming arable land and climate change affecting crop yield, food insecurity will grow with 68% of the world's population living in urban areas by 2050. To address this, we must find new solution spaces for agriculture, including activating cities and arid regions. Decoupling farming from soil, reducing water consumption, and nutrient recycling are essential to achieve this vision, along with reducing food miles and the carbon footprint of the food supply chain.”

Factors for future success

As with the challenge of climate change and sustainability, the success of Singapore's bold "30 by 30" initiative will depend on a multifaceted approach that includes technology adoption, sustainable farming practices, and a robust commitment to research and innovation. By having a multi-stakeholder and iterative mindset, Singapore can mobilize people with a shared vision to dream bigger. 

Technology adoption

Vertical farming: Vertical farming is an important component of Singapore's urban agriculture revolution. It enables year-round agriculture in controlled surroundings while using less land and water. To help the city-state pivot towards more self-sufficiency, the country's urban landscape has plans to foster the development of vertical farms that produce leafy greens, herbs, and even fish.

Hydroponics and aquaponics: Hydroponic and aquaponic systems are becoming increasingly popular in Singapore's food production. These soil-free approaches provide accurate nutrition control while being environmentally benign. They are particularly well-suited to constrained metropolitan areas. Agritech companies like V-plus Agritech have even created a circular aquaponics growing environment that uses microbes to break down fish waste to give nutrients for hydroponics without the use of artificial fertilisers. Such advancements will only help Singapore's agritech industry's understanding and reputation as it expands domestically and globally.

Innovative farming technologies: Singapore is researching AI and automation in agriculture, which will lead to better efficiency and productivity. Drones for crop monitoring, IoT devices for precision farming, and data analytics are assisting farmers in maximising resource utilisation. Advanced real-time sensors may detect carbon emissions as well as monitor growth parameters for increased precision and the capacity to model and fine-tune growth parameters for optimal production. The ability to measure is frequently the first and most significant step towards utilising data technologies for value-chain-wide changes.

Precision fermentation: This cutting-edge technology involves the development of food products in controlled conditions utilising precision-engineered microbes. Singapore is diversifying its food production methods, lowering its reliance on food imports, and ensuring a resilient and sustainable food supply by adopting precise fermentation. This innovative strategy combines with Singapore's commitment to tackling food security concerns and improving its position as a pioneer in sustainable urban food production, providing a promising alternative to ensure the country's food future. It also provides Singapore with a significant competitive advantage in the field of alternative protein.

Sustainable farming practices

Crop diversity: Increasing crop diversity minimises reliance on a single food source and increases resilience to environmental changes or pests. Singapore is experimenting with a wide range of crops that are well-suited to its environment and growth circumstances..

Reduced food waste: An emphasis on reducing food waste is critical to long-term sustainability. Singapore has programmes in place to reduce waste at many points along the supply chain, from production to consumption. This would require a paradigm shift toward understanding how our food choices and consumption behaviours can play a part in our pivot toward sustainability and regeneration. 

Circular economy: The concept of a circular economy, in which waste from one operation becomes a resource for another, is gaining steam. Food waste, for example, can be composted or used as animal feed. Singapore burns almost all of its waste, and the city-state would benefit from increased growth of circular enterprises and a shift in consumer behaviour.

Research and innovation

Government investment: The Singapore government has committed significant resources to support research and innovation in the agri-food sector. Funding is available for projects that focus on sustainable urban food production, future foods, and food safety science and innovation. Some of the investments and initiatives include Enterprise Singapore’s S$90 million co-investment into agritech startups, the Agri-food Cluster Transformation (ACT) Fund and Temasek’s (Singapore state-backed investment company) massive investment into lab-grown protein. 

Academic partnerships: Collaborations between government agencies, universities, and research institutions play a crucial role in advancing agricultural science and technology. These partnerships drive innovation and inform best practices. Institutions and agencies such as the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and A*Star has various research and innovation initiatives for agritech and food production. 

Entrepreneurship and startups: Singapore has seen a surge in agri-tech startups working on innovative solutions. Government support and venture capital investments have created a fertile ground for entrepreneurial endeavours. Such entrepreneurship has been supported by Enterprise Singapore and other incubators are also seeing great interest into the Agritech space. 

Singapore's "30 by 30" initiative's success is dependent on a combination of technical improvement, sustainable farming practises, and a strong commitment to research and innovation. These elements are critical not just for achieving food security, but also for guaranteeing a sustainable and resilient food supply that can resist future difficulties.

Food security and climate change

Exploring the relationship

The link between climate change and food security is a major worry not only for Singapore but for the entire world. Climate change exacerbates the problems of food production, distribution, and access. Singapore's "30 by 30" initiative recognises and acknowledges the intimate relationship between these two elements.

Climate impacts on food security

  • Extreme Weather Events: Extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, storms, and heat waves are becoming more often as a result of climate change. These disasters have the potential to destroy crops and alter food production cycles. Extreme weather, especially in North Asia, has been increasing in frequency and severity.
  • Changing Weather Patterns: Changes in weather patterns can alter planting and harvesting seasons, resulting in erratic food supplies. Farmers must adjust to changing conditions, which can be costly. According to research, 50% of coffee growing areas would be unfit for cultivation by 2050 due to climate change.
  • Water Scarcity: Rising temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns can cause water scarcity, affecting both agricultural irrigation and drinking water supplies. It has also caused conflict between the requirement for energy output (hydroelectricity) and the usage of water for agricultural purposes (irrigation). Increased dam construction is also causing conflict between countries.
  • Pest and Disease Spread: Warmer temperatures can broaden the spectrum of pests and illnesses, causing crop and livestock damage. This can lead to lower yields and higher pest control costs. Pandemics are no longer considered uncommon occurrences, and every country is preparing for the next iteration of a regional or worldwide pandemic.

Impacts on Singapore and the region

Singapore, being a low-lying island city-state, is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as sea-level rise, extreme weather, heat stress, water scarcity, and food security concerns. These risks underscore the critical need for climate adaptation and mitigation actions to protect its people and infrastructure. These difficulties include:

  • Sea-Level Rise: As a result of climate change, Singapore is endangered by sea-level rise. Coastal areas, which are vital for agriculture, are under risk of flooding, which might reduce accessible acreage. It will also be difficult for agritech businesses to compete with established businesses for land use for economic production.
  • Water Stress: Water scarcity already exists in the region, and climate change exacerbates the problem. Reduced rainfall and increased evaporation rates can put a pressure on agricultural water resources. Singapore has intentionally managed this issue by the use of water recycling and desalination technology dubbed (locally) as Newater. This technology consumes a lot of energy, but it is critical for geopolitical relevance and strategic self-sufficiency in crisis scenarios. The government has also put in place sophisticated rainwater collection and storage systems.
  • Food Supply Chain Disruptions: Disruptions caused by climate change in adjacent nations might alter the availability and cost of imported food, exacerbating Singapore's food security problems. The pandemic has made ASEAN recognise the importance of closer collaboration to avert shocks in the food supply chain, and significant work has gone into digitalization to improve efficiencies and foster closer relationships among trading partners. In addition, the city-state has made considerable investments in agriculture both worldwide and regionally.
  • Extreme Weather: Climate change causes more frequent and severe extreme weather events, such as heavy rain and flooding. Singapore must struggle with increased rainfall intensity, which can cause urban flooding and property damage.  Much money has been invested in rainfall capture and drainage to avoid flash floods while also creating opportunities to store and process rainwater.
  • Heat Stress: Singapore's equatorial location exposes it to high temperatures and heatwaves, compounding the effects of urban heat islands. This has the potential to harm public health, energy consumption, and overall liveability. The regional haze, for example, has harmed the general well-being of inhabitants across most of ASEAN. Much effort has gone into developing a regional understanding of haze, its negative impacts, and prospects for regional health cooperation.

Singapore's "30 by 30" plan recognises and potentially ameliorate some of these difficulties, with the goal of improving food security by reducing reliance on external supplies and implementing sustainable practises that minimise the effects of climate change.

Climate change is undeniably threatening food security in Singapore and the rest of the region. Singapore addresses immediate food security challenges while also contributing to global efforts to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change by expanding local food production and using climate-resilient farming practises. This effort serves as a paradigm for proactive and long-term responses to climate-related concerns.

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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