Reimagining Food Security In Singapore: The History And Role Of Food Forests

As mentioned in Savour!’s previous article on 8 Ways You Can Contribute Less to Food Wastage, Singapore expectedly tops the list in the Global Food Security Index. Yet as with most global rankings, it is not entirely reflective and in any case, must not be taken at face value.

This naturally casts doubt on whether this tiny Southeast Asian nation can remain as a world-class bastion of food security — as deglobalisation, threats of food blockades, climate-related disruptions (monsoons, droughts and other unfavourable weather patterns) are observed in other parts of the world. While Singapore fortunately does not face any such immediate disruptions as a result of its diversified food security strategies, it does not mean that we do not potentially face the threat of impending food shortages in the region as changing climate conditions increase the unpredictability of harvests.

Serving as a cautionary tale for Singapore, given our vulnerability and size, this poses a dicey reality for our food security concerns.

A simplified introduction to explain Singapore’s ‘kiasu’ approach can be illustrated by the diagram below. In short, Singapore’s food security is achieved by adopting a multi-pronged approach — namely, through three primary pillars of strategies — Core, Supporting and Enabling. Singapore’s core strategies stem from a place of pragmatism and self-reliance, which is why we have diversified our sources of imports through foreign investment and industry development, coupled with local production and stockpiling.

Alongside to ensure food availability are supporting strategies currently employed by the government in areas of research & development, food wastage reduction and the strengthening of infrastructure amongst others — which are intended to address the limitations of our overall food procurement efforts.

Roadmap of Singapore’s Food Security 2013 Credit: AVA

In recent years, there has been a greater shift towards bolstering our local production, specifically in ramping up ‘food forests’ efforts.

One example of a broader effect is the community farming initiative currently piloted by DBS, where they are engaging its employees to gain access to hands-on farming opportunities at their community farm(DBS Food Forest).

Earlier this year, NParks handed out free packets of seeds that they can use to grow their own vegetables at home, under a Gardening with Edibles initiative. While recognising the risks of having 90% of Singapore’s food being imported, NParks has taken the chance to encourage home gardening as a complementary measure to support the Singapore Food Agency’s 30 by 30 goal (to produce 30% of Singapore’s nutritional needs by 2030).

Lest you have historical amnesia, here’s a refresher on Singapore’s food security efforts dating back to its early years of post-independence. The 1960s Singapore experienced numerous social-economic hardships, especially in its food and housing programmes to support a growing population and counter external threats amid an uncertain period of self-reliance.

Back then, family farms were seen as a cornerstone of food security in a weak nation-state with no natural resources. Essential for both consumption and commercial sense, they managed to meet 50% of the state’s vegetable needs and 30% of its fish needs, in spite of the land constraints. But as a result of the growing urban population and unsustainable living conditions, farms were eventually phased out to make way for construction of housing flats and residential estates.

A decade later in the 1970s saw Singapore converting its military-specific land into agricultural plantations. Intended to drive up commercial and consumption production, pineapples were cultivated in military camps. Worded by David Boey, former defence correspondent at the Straits Times, these ‘citizen soldiers double up as farmers’. Reports claim that 6.5 hectares of military land were transformed into Singapore’s largest pineapple plantation with more than 102,000 Emas Merah and Sarawak pineapple suckers grown by these soldiers.

While we may not face the same challenges, the two narrated examples show us that Singapore faces a similar struggle to distribute adequate land use. Through intricate planning, Singapore has chosen to expand its production through the creative use of land and engaging the community to cultivate another vertical for food resilience. However, this can prove to be limiting given the rise of food wastage, another contributing but often neglected factor to food security.

Understanding that food security is a multi-faceted issue requiring different solutions signals a step in the right direction. Choosing to focus on the supporting strategies, in particular food wastage reduction, is one effective way that can help compensate for our production limits.

Thus, the Savour! team strongly believes that countering food wastage and food insecurity can be done through the reliable matching of supply and demand. Harnessing an e-procurement and sponsorship approach by developing a web platformand mobile app (IOS and Android), Savour! helps to engage merchants with excess food supplies to be sold to B2B customers seeking a lower-cost or free alternative for their operations, programmes and events in Singapore.

PSA. Don’t take my word for it, just try out the Savour! web app platform for yourself by signing up for an account here and downloading our app:

Written by Sherman Tham
is the marketing and communications intern at Savour!.