30X30:Our Hunger for Food Security

The story of food security in Singapore

Category: context


I still love eating – who doesn’t? After 11 weeks of looking at the food production scene in Singapore and beyond, I have come to appreciate many tiny details along the way.

It was interesting to see how this topic of food security touched on what I have learnt this semester – not just in ENV1101. From the SG Fresh Produce logo invoking Geographical Imaginations under the Singapore brand to price elasticity and its effects on our imports. All the research I did for this blog really opened my eyes to certain quirks of food production – from what vegetables were produced to even less conventional ways produce were sold and the considerations of producers.

Your questions and comments also challenged the way I think and write, from exposing certain blindspots or highlighting areas where my choice of words made what I was trying to portray ambiguous. Amidst this COVID pandemic, many of our interactions were online and all our earlier interactions in the comment section in each other’s blogs did help foster a stronger sense of belonging and familiarity within the BES community for our batch. I look forward to meeting everyone “IRL” next sem.

collab on frog legs. A 14-year journey from farm to fork – and meeting new people along the way

Of course, there are many aspects of this blog that could have been done better. The visual attractiveness of this blog being the most noticeable at first glance, as well as how I display information from interviews and the overall structure of my blog. There are still some topics that have not been covered – such as what lessons we can learn from our water security story as well as more on the impact of our 30×30 goal beyond Singapore. Here are some blogs that are presented very differently from mine that may interest you: Sherry’s was highly structured and well thought out from the beginning, Natasha’s was a lot more visually appealing and this post by Kelly really incorporated interesting media. I should probably have experimented with and adopted their best practices earlier, especially after I realised I have the creativity of a peanut…

A word of advice to any juniors reading this in 2021 and beyond: choose a topic you are interested in then think about how that affects the environment. Suprisingly, I managed to include many of my other “random” interests from numismatics to scouting and gardening (either that or I was actually shoehorning unrelated stuff in, you be the judge). If your area of interest seems to already have been covered by the seniors, how have your lived experiences influence how you view the same issues?

Oh, it is also important to think critically when reading other’s posts. For example, my advice in the previous paragraph may actually be a bunch of hogwash.

update on my tomato seedling – transplanted it a bit late but it has grown a lot over this semester too. Draw whatever metaphors you want.

That’s it from me. All the best for finals and good luck (and have fun) on your blogs if you’re reading this in the future. Spare a thought to where your food comes from and how sustainabe they are!


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.

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