30X30:Our Hunger for Food Security

The story of food security in Singapore

Month: September 2020

Our three food baskets

Hi everyone, hope you had a fruitful recess week. We learnt about the current state of food production in Singapore last week. Keeping in mind that local food production is planned to meet only 30% of our nutritional demands, what are the strategies to ensure that the remaining 70% is secure?

The 30by30 plan is just one of three “food baskets” in Singapore’s food security strategy. Currently, “Diversify import sources” is the main way we maintain food security. SFA does this by certifying more supplier as safe for import while maintaining food safety standards. They also work with businesses in the industry to look for potential sources. Amidst the COVID 19 pandemic, Singapore has taken steps to ensure that food continues to reach Singapore. 12 countries including Singapore have signed the “Supply Chain Connectivity Agreements”, committing to keep the export of goods including food unimpeded.

Infomation collated from List of countries/regions approved to export raw and processed meat products, table eggs and processed eggs to Singapore (as at 10 Sep2020) retrieved https://www.sfa.gov.sg/docs/default-source/tools-and-resources/resources-for-businesses/approved-countries.pdf

It is interesting to note how varied our import sources for pork and poultry are. While the list is meant to be exhaustive, it seems to be missing Indonesia as an exporter of pork. Pulau Bulan, Indonesia has long been our sole source of fresh pork and it was just recently that pigs from Sarawak, Malaysia were allowed. I suspect this list omits live animals exported to Singapore for slaughter. I was surprised to learn that there is an abattoir in Singapore for this. Another unexpected absence is South Korea for beef. Upon further search, I realised that Korean marts selling cuts for KBBQs get their beef from Australia.

I am also surprised to see exporters of table eggs (unprocessed in shell form) being from as far away as Denmark. While it is great that we have a diverse range of exporters, I wonder how fresh the eggs can be once they reach Singapore and the carbon footprint involved for such a long journey.

It is reassuring to see that our food is imported from different regions around the world which would minimise the damage if a particular region had food production curtailed by environmental, political or health reasons.

While diversifying food sources helps to protect us from supply shocks affecting one exporter, it also plays a role in keeping prices stable.

This author definitely isn’t trying to use this as an opportunity to revise for the upcoming Econs Mid-terms. As BES is a multi-disciplinary programme, it may be useful to think about how the different modules are related.

In this example, we consider a situation where Thailand experiences drought and supply of Thai rice falls. Luckily, Singapore has alternatives to rice from Thailand. Knowing that the importer has many alternatives, exporters will be less willing to artificially inflate their prices. This keeps food prices more stable.

SFA also encourages farms to expand overseas via the ‘Grow Overseas’ strategy. This allows local firms to have space and labour unavailable in Singapore to innovate and develop better methods. It will also be easier to import from these overseas ventures. Singapore also cooperates with the other governments, such as through the Singapore-Sino Jilin Food Zone, ensuring that food is exported to Singapore.

What are your thoughts on our trading partners, did any surprise you? What do you think about the grow overseas strategy, should it be considered a separate food basket midway between “grow local” and “diversify import sources”? Let me know in the comments!

Cheers and all the best for your submissions and midterms,

See Toh Ee Kin

Fish, Leafy Vegetables and Eggs

Hi everyone, welcome back 🙂 For a quick recap, we learnt about the agriculture scene in Singapore since the 40s, and how food security is not a new concept.

So where does that bring us today? Before I started this blog, I did a quick survey about what my friends (around three quarters were BES course mates) knew about food security.

Seems like we all have a lot to learn!

While most of us were reasonably sure about eggs and vegetables, a significant percentage of people were unable to identify what else Singapore produced.

Currently, a quarter of eggs, a tenth of fish, and 14% of leafy vegetables consumed in Singapore are grown locally. Of all 220 farms, 77 farms grow leafy vegetables, 121 farm fish (of which 109 are offshore) and just 5 produce eggs. I find it interesting that eggs, which we are most self-sufficient, have the least number of farms. This is especially noticeable when compared to fish farms. Is there a need for the consolidation of fish farms in the immediate future to achieve economies of scale? There certainly is room for cooperation. In 2015, waters off Pasir Ris were affected by algal bloom. Less affected farms took mitigation measures early, such as by temporarily transferring fish to farms in other areas. Larger farms with branches in different areas may be better able to handle these transfers at the first sign of trouble. It is also not as if fish farming is still in its infancy in Singapore. As early as 1984, “marine cage net fish farms” were in operation and accounted for 2% of fish consumed locally. If consolidation is not possible, fish farms could look into forming some sort of consortium which facilities cooperation and risk-sharing. After all, algal blooms are expected to be more common due to climate change and other anthropogenic reasons (Gobler, 2020). On the other hand, there are also risks to having just a small number of large companies. Should one company close due to financial mismanagement, local supply will be heavily affected. Of course, eggs and fish are very different products and it may not be possible to compare their markets quantitively.

It is also interesting that only half the participants surveyed identified fish as the top 3 products. I suppose this could be because most farms are offshore and barely noticed by Singaporeans. Moreover, fish are often sold without much information other than price and name.

Fish sold at my local supermarket

There is little information about their origin, unlike eggs and supermarket vegetables which at the very least have the farm’s name on it. Certainly, more can be done to highlight local produce when it comes to seafood.

barramundi of unknown origin sold at my local supermarket

Is this barramundi farmed in Singapore or imported? Nobody knows.

What are your thoughts on the number of fish and egg farms as compared to the percentage supplied locally? Let me know in the comments.



our food production history

“To understand the present and anticipate the future, one must know enough of the past. Enough to have a sense of the history of the people. One must appreciate not merely what took place but more especially why it took place and in that particular way. That is true of individuals, as it is for nations”
—Lee Kuan Yew, during the PAP’s 25th Anniversary Rally, 1980

In the previous post, we learnt about the 30by30 goal. Before we think about how this goal can be achieved, let us know more about the context of food production in Singapore. How was the farming scene like, and how did the idea of food security come about?

The Japanese Occupation of Singapore was a very trying time. Growing up, I heard stories of my grandparents growing tapioca for sustenance. What was the “new normal” once the war ended? Here’s what I understand (from Chou 2014 ) about the local farming situation from the post-war years. Most farms were family-run. Being smaller, these farms were better able to react to changes in the market as compared to commercial ones. Such farms were able to meet local needs up to the 80s. However, pig farms were relocated to Punggol in the 70 due to concerns that wastewater would affect local water catchments (Tortajada et al, 2013).

However, 1984 marked a change in the government’s priorities (Tortajada & Zhang, 2016). In line with the transition to a knowledge-based economy, Primary Production Department Director, Mr. Goh Keng Swee, announced that Singapore no longer aimed to be self-sufficient for food. Instead, Singaporeans should specialise in areas higher up the value chain and rely on trade to meet other needs. The last pig farms in Punggol closed in 1989. Many areas involved in farming were converted into agrotechnology parks.  Through these parks, modern farms can adopt each other’s best practises and technology more easily, resulting in higher and more sustainable yield.

Author at an agrotechnology park in 2006

Author at an agrotechnology park in 2006.  Unfortunately, the only pictures I have are from that field trip when I was seven.

So what changed since 1984 that raised the importance of food security?

In 2007, there was a global food crisis. Due to drought and the shift to biofuel production, food prices rose dramatically leading to panic buying. The government highlighted that there was a national stockpile of rice – this was brought up again this year.

My biggest takeaway from the history of the food supply in Singapore is the importance of the government’s direction. 1984 showed that a decision to end self-sufficiency is a lot easier than efforts to raise it since 2007. The government needs to be clear what the goal is post-2030. T Ambiguity will only result in farmers hesitating to seize opportunities due to fears of being left in the lurch as pig farmers were back in the late 80s.

I understand why pig farming was phased out in the 80s. There was a risk that farmers would be left behind in Singapore’s march towards progress, creating a rural-urban divide. As they say, you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. Had the status quo been kept, the agriculture scene in Singapore may not have evolved into the technologically intensive scene we have today. It is also not fair to say that we could have maintained our sufficiency in pork as our population has almost doubled since then. However, keeping some sort of target for food sufficiency in mind would have been good. In hindsight, given the importance attributed to water security, the laissez-faire approach to food security seems out of character.

What do you think about the decision to shift away from self-sufficiency in the 80s? Was it a misstep, or was it more important that all Singaporeans shifted to jobs further up the value chain? What are your thoughts on the number of fish and egg farms in relation to the percentage supplied locally? Let me know in the comments.



Tortajada, C., Joshi, Y. K., & Biswa, A. K. (2013). The Singapore water story: Sustainable development in an urban city-state (p. 142). New York, NY: Routledge. Call no.: SING 363.61095957 TOR.

Tortajada, Cecilia, and Hongzhou Zhang. “Food Policy in Singapore.” Reference Module in Food Science, 2016, doi:10.1016/b978-0-08-100596-5.21083-4.

Chou, Cynthia. “Agriculture and the End of Farming in Singapore.” Nature Contained: Environmental Histories of Singapore, by Timothy P. Barnard, NUS Press, 2014, pp. 216–240, muse-jhu-edu.libproxy1.nus.edu.sg/chapter/1096622.

Taiganides, E. P. Pig Waste Management and Recycling: the Singapore Experience. International Development Research Centre, 1992.


I love eating – who doesn’t? Growing up in Singapore, we often feel quite removed from food production. I remember having a lot of fun visiting places like the Yakult factory, Oh Chin Huat farm, and Sunshine bakeries during school field trips. Everything felt so foreign and we may even get a free sample to bring home!

Author aged seven at the Jurong frog farm

Aged seven at the Jurong Frog Farm. I wasn’t too interested in the free samples here apparently.

Our supermarkets have always been well-stocked. This all changed when Malaysia announced its Movement Control Order due to the COVID 19 pandemic. Panic buying ensued, and shelves went empty. Of course, public fears did not come to pass – despite the MCO there remained a steady supply of food. However, the very sight of empty shelves opened the eyes of many to the importance of food security. That was the first time I heard of measures like a national stockpile of food and diversification of food source.

The first time I heard about the 30 by 30 plan was when I joined a Facebook group about farming in apartments during the Circuit Breaker period. Someone posted the news of the impending closure of Oh Chin Huat Hydroponic Farm, which drew many comments. Some lamented that it was ironic for such a well-established farm to close despite our increased awareness about food security, while others wondered if we could afford to be so nostalgic in our march towards progress.

So what exactly is this 30 by 30 goal? Well, 30×30 calls for us to grow 30% of our nutritional needs by 2030, with no increase to land allocated to agriculture. While this goal was announced in 2019, disruptions caused by the COVID 19 pandemic highlighted the relevance of food security. However, the long-term threat of climate change to our food security remains. Taking the environment as a whole into account, is the 30 by 30 plan the best way forward?

I don’t have the answers now, but that made me think about how our food production may change in the next decade and beyond. There is more to this than just our immediate food security at all costs after all.

I hope to hear your views as we explore different environmental issues together this semester. We all have our blind spots and different perspectives would help to enrich the conversation.

See you next week. In the meantime, I need to figure out what to do with my tomato seedlings!


See Toh Ee Kin



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