This article was produced and published by Cedric Choo from Global Initiatives.
Globally, there were 135 million people chronically food insecure. With the crisis, the stain on the global food system is exacerbated, almost doubling these numbers.
The United Nations has warned that an estimated 265 million people could face acute food insecurity by the end of 2020, severely impacting food security on developing countries.
Supply chains are being disrupted – food producers are struggling to find workers to harvest food amid quarantine measures and closed borders, F&B businesses are turning away food orders as they face a downturn in business, and more people are panic buying and hoarding food.
Indeed, the disruption in global food supply can be acutely felt in Singapore, where 90 percent of our food is imported.
According to the Singapore Food Agency, Singapore’s low domestic food producing capacity means that we largely accept prices set by overseas food producers, and are thus vulnerable to shifts in global food supply and an increase in prices.
To address this problem, the government has unveiled a plan to boost local production of food in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This S$30 million grant is aimed to help local farms increase production of eggs, vegetables, and fish over the next 6 to 24 months, supplementing the government’s 30×30 plans to meet 30% of food demand locally by 2030.
Image by Singapore Food Agency
While the $30 million grant is a recent development, plans to diversify Singapore’s food supply to include more locally-produced food is not.
The 30×30 strategy was developed in 2019 in response to anticipated disruptions in global food supply as a result of climate change.
This includes, among other effects, disruptions in food production as climate regimes shift globally and more frequent and extreme weather events become more common, making it harder to grow crops.
However, the 30×30 strategy may not be sufficient to supply Singapore’s future food demands, especially as climate change has the potential to disrupt food production in unexpected ways.
Beyond investing in high-tech solutions to meet domestic food demands, we need to explore alternative avenues that can supplement local food production as well.
In another article on food security, Hoong mentioned that one promising alternative to producing local, lies in a growing movement – urban gardening, or more specifically, community and indoor gardening.
She added, as local communities are farming their way through the urban jungle, more people are starting to see the benefits of urban farming in their health and the nutritional value of their food produce.
Image by The Straits Times
Community gardening is the use of outdoor public or private spaces to cultivate gardens for food as a group, whereas indoor gardening involves the use of individual private spaces to grow food.
More importantly, this food movement enables each individual the ability to meet part of their food needs on their own, alleviating their dependence on food supply chains that are highly prone to disruption.
Urban gardening is promising as the knowledge barriers are lower relative to the expertise needed for high-tech farming, allowing for a more democratic system of food production.
Already, there is a thriving community of local gardeners who grow their own crops to supplement their food needs.
For example, Mr Asari Rafie was recently featured on The Straits Times for his gardening endeavours, where he says he is mostly self-sufficient on his own crops.
Similarly, social media groups such as Urban Farmers (Singapore) have gained much traction of late, where gardeners share tips on how to grow crops at home.
There are several ways urban farming can be introduced to the masses.
For one, schools can incorporate urban gardening into their curriculums to teach students how to grow their own food.
This is already being done in Spectra Secondary School, where much thought has been put into designing a curriculum on how to garden, with the aim of allowing students to adopt new skills through experiential learning.
Nationwide programmes on SkillsFuture also provide local citizens the opportunity to attend Gardening courses, bringing science-based urban farming and horticulture knowledge to working adults.
A Range of Benefits
Not only will urban gardening, when widespread, reduce our reliance on food imports and increase Singapore’s food security, it can also bring a host of other benefits.
For example, growing your own food can lower your carbon footprint, as a significant amount of emissions are produced in fossil-fuel intensive farming, transportation, and packaging methods.
It is estimated that for every calorie of food that we consume, 10 calories of fossil fuel energy are required to transport it from its source to us.
Also, industrial agriculture largely grows monoculture crops that involve high amounts of artificial fertiliser and pesticides, which have a detrimental effect on the environment. Growing our own food through and consuming it at the source of harvest can help address this to a certain extent.
Likewise, growing and taking ownership of our own food can cultivate a greater consciousness of food and the processes involved in obtaining them, thereby reducing food waste.
A Caveat To Urban Gardening
However, as much as urban gardening can be seen as a relatively easy solution to supplement our food security strategy, encouraging its uptake in Singapore will not be easy.
Simply teaching people how to grow their own food will be inadequate.
For this to be successful, it has to be coupled with a paradigm shift in Singapore’s culture of work – where long hours are the norm rather than the exception. Such constraints on time can be a huge barrier in the wider adoption of urban gardening practices in the country.
In addition to empowering people to “plant their own” vegetables, we will need to address the deeper structural forces that inhibit these recreational pursuits in the first place.
If we want urban gardening to be more widely adopted, addressing issues of limited recreational time should be a top priority.