30X30:Our Hunger for Food Security

The story of food security in Singapore

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


  1. See Toh Ee Kin

    September 25, 2020 at 1:24 AM

    Hi all, if you look at the source on import sources, you may notice that it is more nuanced. For the purpose of this post, I am treating “exports suspended” and “no establishment listed to date” as not being an import source. All other forms of + are treated as import sources. A more convienient lookup tool by country can be found here:https://www.sfa.gov.sg/tools-and-resources/accredited-overseas-meat-and-egg-processing-establishment.
    Also, the situation outlined regarding price elasticity of demand may not be as relevant as ensuring diverse supply, especially since Singapore isn’t that big of an importer to affect global prices. I just thought it’ll be nice to throw in something from another module since it is related.

  2. Hi Ee Kin!

    Wow, what an interesting information! I am surprised that there is actually a slaughterhouse in Singapore.

    Other than that, I wouldn’t say that the Grow Overseas is a midway between the 2 strategies but rather the extension of Grow Local strategy and therefore, Singapore can diversify their food supply. In a way, they are “importing” back the food that they grown overseas to Singapore but I wouldn’t call it an import since they are still produced by local firms.

    I want to ask about the Grow Overseas strategy, though. Will there be any political or economical complexities that surround this idea? Other than that, assuming that these food production is going to be exported to compete in the global market, how strong will their market power be since the products are highly substitutable and have limited comparative advantage?

    • See Toh Ee Kin

      September 25, 2020 at 3:38 PM

      Hi Sherry,

      Thanks for stopping by. I definetely agree that Grow Overseas is an extension of the Grow Local strategy in that it involves capacity building of firms based in Singapore. I was of the impression that this would still be considered import as it would be crossing borders. I’m not sure to what extent it becomes a transnational firm based in Singapore vs a Singapore firm.

      Firms would need to abide by the local laws and standards. Depending on the domestic context, countries may set up some barriers to entry – Enterprise Singapore may help Singaporean firms understand and overcome them (https://www.enterprisesg.gov.sg/overseas-markets/overview). Of course, the receiving country must be open to such firms too. As we’ve seen in Jilin, both parties stand to benefit in that jobs are created in China and Singaporean firms have space to develop. As with many activities involving international trade, some people may feel that they have gotten the short end of the stick, but that is a whole new can of worms.

      Again with the grey areas regarding export/import, but a Singaporean firm overseas would be competing in their domestic markets and not necessarily a global one. As for comparitive advantage, the point of growinig overseas is so that Singaporean firms will have the chance to grow without being impeded by Singapore’s lack of space or labour. Government support can only go so far, if these firms are not able to survive overseas they may need to reassess their own strategies and adapt accordingly.

      I hope this makes sense. “Grow Overseas” seems to be a newer idea than the other two food baskets and we can expect more finetuning in the coming years. There is also less information available on that than the other two baskets on SFA’s websites.


  3. Hi Ee Kin!

    This is certainly quite an eye-opening post into the current state of external food sources in Singapore. I’m also really surprised to learn of an existence of a slaughterhouse right here on our shores!

    I also agree with you and Sherry that Grow Overseas is an extension of the Grow Local strategy, but there is something I’m curious about. During our class on effects on land, we were introduced to the concept of land grabbing, and I was quite surprised to see that Singapore was amongst the top 10 in terms of amount of grabbed land owned. Is this Grow Overseas strategy considered a form of land grabbing, and if so, how significant is it? Beyond that, are there possible implications for the host country if they allow Singapore to use their land to grow crops (while you did mention how in Jilin, both parties benefit, I’m curious about your thoughts on whether this is always the case)?

    Of course, it’s alright if information right now is too sparse to answer those questions, but I’m just interested in your thoughts is all.

    Jeng Wei

    • See Toh Ee Kin

      September 25, 2020 at 9:42 PM

      Hi Jeng Wei,

      That’s a very insightful question. For land grabbing, I think that the harm comes when locals who have previously been farming the land are displaced, and if food continues to be exported despite food shortages in the host country. SFA lists the following under Grow Overseas: “Some local farms have already ventured into Australia (Barramundi Asia), Brunei (Apollo Aquaculture, Barramundi Asia), Hong Kong (Sustenir), and Thailand and China (Sky Greens)”. Based of this alone, it is not apparent that the first part about displacing locals is occurring. What about the part about food exports despite shortages? I found that Sustenir has actually been improving food security in Hong Kong during COVID (https://www.ejinsight.com/eji/article/id/2461503/20200512-Sustenir-to-boost%20HK%E2%80%99s-local-food-supply-amid-coronavirus-crisis). It boggles my mind that despite having so much agricultural land reserves and even brownfields, Hong Kong imports a larger percentage of vegetables than Singapore. From the information made available by SFA, it does not appear that land grabbing is going on. Of course, SFA may probably not out itself for encouraging land grabbing. If “grow overseas” is just based on “grow stuff for export back to Singapore”, I can definitely see how that may make it prone to land grabbing. However, job creation and technology transfer (after innovation) may also be an important part of Grow Overseas. From what we can tell these companies also meet their host countries’ domestic demand and don’t just export all back to Singapore.

      With regards to Jilin I noted that both parties stand to benefit. The food zone has faced many problems and delays thus far (https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/another-setback-for-jilin-food-zone). In 2017 they said that pork exports should be ready by 2019. A check on SFA’s website did not reveal any accredit pork processing establishment at Jilin as of September this year. For what is supposed to be a large collaboration, there seems to be little news (in English or Chinese) about the zone. This does not leave me with the impression that the Sino-Singapore Jilin Food Zone is a resounding success.

      I guess we can give it more time and await developments.

      • Hi Ee Kin,

        You’re right. Jeng Wei’s Q is EXCELLENT. Actually, reading your post, I was wondering if someone would ask that very Q.

        Your answer is also great.

        But let me remind you all to look carefully at that map and the paper. The vast majority of grabbed land is in the Global South, and rarely is it located in highly urbanised nations like Hong Kong. I’m not 100 % sure, but I believe that displacement of local users, while a common occurrence, is not a requirement for a transaction to be deemed a land grab. For example, some of the land being grabbed is virgin rainforest, where there are no human inhabitants.

        Another way to view this SG-HK relationship (or the expansion of Sky Greens into Thailand) might be as a form of technology transfer.

        I also wanted to convey a reaction to your post. Am I the only person looking at this table and thinking : this is all about meat and eggs ? What am I missing when I ask why the supply-chain agreements don’t include dietary staples ? Sorry if that’s a dumb Q, but I seriously don’t understand why making sure we have salted eggs is a priority.

        Thanks, jc

        • See Toh Ee Kin

          October 6, 2020 at 10:14 AM

          Hi Dr Coleman,

          Sorry for the delayed response. For some reason, I’ve stopped receiving email notifications whenever I receive comments on this blog. I’ll try and fix that asap.
          I guess land grabbing is not clearly defined, with civil societies, governments and coroporation having slightly different intepretations (http://www.fao.org/family-farming/detail/en/c/1010775/). While I focused on the negative impact of people and food security due to the nature of my blog, I missed other important aspects like conservation of green spaces. Thanks for pointing that out. I definitely agree that as it is now technology transfer is the key to the “Grow Overseas” strategy and is what seperates it from the other two food baskets.

          Any emphasis on meat and eggs is due to my secondary research rather than strictly the focus of SFA. I found it a lot easier to find data for meat and eggs due to food safety concerns. The data extracted is aimed towards letting suppliers know which countries and farms they can import from. Food safety standards between meat products, live animals foor slaughter and plant products are different, which explains the absence of the later two categories in my findings.

          The table reflects our import sources mentioned below the table, rather than the connectivity agreement mentioned above. I could have transitioned between the two better to avoid misunderstanding.


          See Toh Ee Kin

          • Hi Ee Kin,

            Thanks so much for your reply. I understand better now where you were coming from. And no need to apologise for delayed replies – I’m more concerned with your replies to your peers’ comments than to mine.


  4. Hi Ee Kin, thanks for your post! Although there are many comments on the “Grow Overseas” strategy already, there is still one question I have.

    We saw during this pandemic that global trade movements slowed and were affected. Worrying about their own situation, many countries held back supplies for their own use instead of exporting them as they used to. Vietnam came close to implementing a rice export ban to protect their own food security. Exports from India were also affected due to lockdown regulations. Though thankfully during this period, global leaders were able to come up with a deal and keep trade open, I dare not say for sure in future, if pandemics get more severe, that this will still be the case. Like you said, Singaporean farms are subject to local laws and regulations, and I will suppose that these farms will be forced to have their produce provided to the local market, instead of the Singaporean market. Thus in your opinion, is the “Grow Overseas” strategy an effective one, especially in situations involving global crises.

    • See Toh Ee Kin

      October 3, 2020 at 6:53 PM

      Hi Ernest,

      I’m so sorry for the delayed response, I may have missed this comment amidst preparing for the midterm stuff. Thanks for stopping by.

      That’s a valid point, sometimes nations do take action to safeguard their own interests too.

      To me, the strength of “Grow Overseas” lies not in the amount of food we can export back to Singapore, but rather the experience gained by local companies. Going overseas allows our companies to pick up new techniques common in foreign territories and allows our farmers to have the space to experiment with novel solutions. This might not be available in Singapore. Expanding may also allow companies to enjoy economies of scale, where lumpy inputs or certain services can be split between their farms.

      Just my two cents, I still am not too familiar with the Grow Overseas strategy and how different it is compared to the government’s efforts to encourage overseas expansion which has a longer history (https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/going-global-will-more-government-help-make-a-difference)

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