More awareness needed on importance of food security

I read the commentary “The rising challenge of our fragile food security” (Aug 22) with much interest. Mr Barry Desker rightly highlighted that food security is a “politically sensitive” issue, especially for import-dependent nations like Singapore.

Just because agriculture and farming is out of sight for many of us does not mean it should be out of our minds. However, among my peers, I find that young Singaporeans are not aware of the challenges facing food supplies and do not seem to care.

Singapore ranks 16th among 107 countries in the Global Food Security Index 2013 compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit. We scored much higher compared to our neighbouring countries in South-east Asia, and even higher than other wealthy Asian nations such as South Korea and Japan.

This ranking, I believe, is testament to our high standards of living, our government agencies’ good work in regulating quality of food and the assistance available to help poorer Singaporeans with access to food.

But we should not take high levels of food security for granted. As a nation, there are four things we should do.

First, we should do more to boost local production of food to decrease our reliance on import markets. This can be done through agricultural research and development, which might help us maximise the limited land and water resources that we have.

At our frog farm, we have successfully harvested frog fallopian tubes (which were usually thrown away) and processed it into edible hashima.

Second, we should look at alternative sources of food. If people are willing to try out different sources of protein, such as frogs, crocodiles and quails, the strain on food supplies might be eased.

Third, we should look at ways to reduce the environmental impact of food production. Mr Desker mentioned that “most governments charge farmers 10 to 20 per cent of the price paid by industrial users or households for water consumption”. We, farmers in Singapore, do not enjoy such subsidies and pay the same rate for agricultural water as other manufacturers. Thus, we have to make judicious use of water.

At our farm, we have worked with local tertiary institutions on ways to recycle frog skin by making it into usable hide. We have done internal R&D on processing the frog fats into usable oil for lamps.

We also encourage our customers to bring their cooler bags or recycle the styrofoam boxes (provided by us) when they shop with us to enjoy a recycling effort rebate.

Finally, we should educate young Singaporeans more about agriculture and food production.

Many of our senior citizens are familiar with agriculture, as Singapore used to have more farms. They may also have experienced periods of hunger and food shortage in Singapore’s early days.

But our younger Singaporeans never had to worry about having enough food to eat and may take things for granted.

Submitted to TODAY papers on 2nd September 2013.

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