Speech by Dr Mohamad Maliki bin Osman, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development and Defence at the International Conference on Asian Food Security [Speeches]
Speech by Dr Mohamad Maliki bin Osman, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development and Defence at the opening ceremony of the International Conference on Asian Food Security (ICAFS 2011) on 10 August 2011 at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel
Ambassador Barry Desker
S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS)
Dr Gil Saguiguit
Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA)
Ladies and gentlemen,
1. I am honoured to join you this morning for the opening of the International Conference on Asian Food Security jointly organised by the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (or RSIS) Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, and the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture, or SEARCA in short.
2. The overall theme of the conference “Feeding Asia in the 21st Century: Building Urban-Rural Alliances” is most apt, as it reflects the need for us to widen our perspective and find holistic solutions to solve our food security issues.
Food Security: A Growing Global Concern
3. Food security has traditionally been considered in the context of rural poverty. However, the 2007/2008 global food crisis saw food riots and demonstrations in many parts of the world, and brought the topic of food security to the forefront of international attention. Far from being a one-off event, this crisis highlighted the vulnerabilities of our global food system, and the need for countries to re-examine our food security policies and approaches.
4. The underlying demand and supply factors which led to today’s global food situation have existed for some time now. For instance, global agricultural productivity has been in decline due to years of under-investment in agriculture, while global food demand arising from an expanding population, has been steadily increasing. Climate change and extreme weather events have also compounded the food shortage problem.
5. Food security is a complex problem. The answer is not as simple as merely increasing agricultural production. Given the increasingly inter-dependent world we live in, our international and domestic policies in areas such as trade, finance and energy, also have an important effect on food security.
6. Today, food security has been firmly placed on the agenda of key regional and multi-lateral fora. Let me elaborate.
7. First, within the Association of South East Asian Nations (or ASEAN in short). In 2009, ASEAN adopted the ASEAN Integrated Food Security framework and formulated a five-year strategic plan. Work is still on-going. The main objective of AIFS is to enhance cooperation among ASEAN nations and assure long-term food security in the region.
8. Next, at the larger regional platform is the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). Traditionally a trade-related platform, APEC has also recognised the significance and inter-dependencies of trade and food security. At the inaugural Ministerial Meeting on Food Security in Niigata last year, APEC economies agreed to facilitate agricultural investment, trade and markets as part of our on-going efforts to enhance food security within APEC.
9. Last but not the least, at the multilateral G20 platform. This year, the French Presidency has decided to tackle the negative effects of food price volatility on global food security. In addition to agricultural development, the G20 is also looking at other aspects that would have a bearing on global food security, such as international coordination, trade, development and finance.
10. This growing recognition on the importance of international cooperation in ensuring global food security is certainly a step in the right direction. Countries will now need to work on putting the plans into action.
Safeguarding Singapore’s Food Security
11. Singapore is no exception. In fact, food security is especially a key concern as we import more than 90% of our food. We are a small city state with no hinterland. We are also a price taker and face the twin challenges of food price and supply volatility.
12. To ensure our food supply resilience, we have decided to diversify our food sources. For instance, we import our meat products from all over the world, even as far as Brazil and Argentina. By tapping on as many food sources as possible, we are better buffered against short-term supply disruptions from any one source.
13. Not only do we aim for a resilient food supply, we must also make sure that our food is safe for consumption. Our Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) has put in place a rigorous, science-based food safety regime, and works closely with the industry to maintain high food safety standards.
14. Another important strategy is to enhance our local production of three key food items, namely eggs, leafy vegetables and fish. We target to increase our self sufficiency from 23% to 30% for eggs, from 7% to 10% for leafy vegetables, and from 4% to 15% for fish.
15. We will help our local farms increase their productivity and yields. AVA launched a $10 million Food Fund in December 2009 to help fund companies’ capability building to boost production. The response was good, and of the 48 applications received, AVA awarded nearly $6 million to 15 projects. Last week, AVA also just launched a second tranche of $10 million. The Government hopes that with funding support, our companies and farms will be incentivised to explore new farming technologies and build up capability to ensure our food supply resilience.
Singapore’s Contributions to Global Food Security
16. Beyond addressing the immediate challenges, we should have a broader, more holistic view of food security. This includes how Singapore can contribute to global food security.
17. Although Singapore is not an agricultural country, there are aspects of the food value chain that we can contribute to. A case in point is research and development. Singapore has excellent infrastructure, a robust intellectual property regime, a pro-enterprise tax structure and a conducive financial environment to support both publicly and privately-led research.
18. Our tertiary and research institutions do valuable and meaningful work with regard to food security. Let me briefly mention two projects as an illustration.
19. The first is a project which recently received a grant from the National Research Foundation. It is a collaborative project between the National University of Singapore (NUS), Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory (TLL) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to explore how to improve rice yield and disease resistance. It is also an interesting example as Singapore does not produce rice ourselves. However, the project has potential benefits for Asia, and by extension, Singapore as well.
20. The second is the work being done by the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies. As a think tank, it produces valuable “think pieces” on food security from a bird’s eye and inter-disciplinary perspective. Its research helps us to better contextualise the various aspects of Asian food security with the respect to the global food supply chain. The Centre also organises conferences such as the one today, to foster information and knowledge sharing, and hopefully allows us to identify innovative solutions to global security issues.
21. The private sector also plays a key role. The Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) is keen to develop Singapore into a hub for agri-businesses, by supporting the set-up of operational headquarters and trading operations, as well as upstream R&D. Syngenta and Bayer CropScience have established research laboratories in Singapore to develop elite crop varieties for the region, utilising cutting-edge breeding technologies based on genomics. Such valuable work can later be translated into increasing agricultural output for the region.
22. Apart from increasing R&D and investments into agricultural development, we can explore other novel, new ideas that can potentially change the way we think about achieving food security.
23. From Singapore’s perspective, one possibility is to leverage on our densely populated and urbanised environment to find unique, urban solutions to food security. These can eventually be shared and replicated in other cities.
24. One such potential is in urban farming, where agricultural production is creatively brought within the city boundaries, thus reducing its reliance on food imports. Although urban farming ideas such as rooftop farming have been talked about before, we have not yet been able to implement these ideas on a large and commercially viable scale. Nevertheless, we are making some progress. Just last year, AVA concluded a pilot project with a local company, SkyGreens, on a commercial vertical farming prototype. We hope that more of such projects and collaborations can be explored, and that one day, Singapore can be a centre for urban farming.
25. Let me conclude by urging all of you to continuously generate ideas and innovate solutions to tackle the global food security problem. As food security issues transcend national boundaries, we must seek to forge win-win partnerships and work closely with one another.
26. Over the next three days, there will be many opportunities for participants to share information, discuss pertinent issues and network with a variety of stakeholders. I hope you will have a fruitful and exciting conference ahead. Thank you.