Is there dirt in Singapore's politics

Singapore wants to become an agricultural nation - also because of Covid-19

The coronavirus is fueling a vision that recently seemed a bit unworldly: Singapore wants to increase its self-sufficiency in food to 30% by 2030. Yoghurt and chocolate are said to still come from Switzerland, but the city-state is striving for more self-sufficiency when it comes to vegetables, eggs and fish.

Multi-storey fish farms, tomato gardens on skyscrapers, potato fields instead of overbuildings and 2 million fresh eggs per day: when the Singapore government presented the vision a year ago of wanting to cover 30% of the food needs from their own production within ten years, some people in the city-state were struggling amazes the eyes. Wasn't Singapore, thanks to its close economic ties with third countries, one of the best-served countries? Doesn't it border on economic nonsense when a tiny industrial nation the size of a small canton wants to become self-sufficient?

The virus is terrorizing the world

Welcome to April 2020. The virus is terrorizing the world, the stock markets have been collapsing for two months, food shelves are thinning, travel is practically prohibited and supply chains are largely disrupted. Self-sufficiency, allotments and rabbits in the garden, on the other hand, are in vogue. The question of how much agriculture a nation needs is also up for debate. What the government in Singapore suggested a year ago with “30 by 2030” suddenly seems more relevant than ever before. But is it also realistic?

A purchase in a small country leaves no doubt: Singapore's climate can best be compared to that of a greenhouse, but almost all products come from near or far abroad. The steak usually comes from Australia, the french fries chips from New Zealand, the salmon from Scotland, the pasta from Italy, the cheese mostly from France, poultry, pineapple and Presto tomato sauce from Malaysia. The rice comes from Thailand or India, apples, peas and mushrooms come from China, and for some seafood delicacies Vietnam or Japan are indicated as countries of origin. The stands with dried fruit are firmly in Filipino hands. If you like instant noodles, you can choose from Korean, Indonesian or Chinese cuisine.

Dangerous dependence on Malaysia

According to the Agriculture and Veterinary Authority (AVA), Singapore's food imports amount to well over 1 million tons annually. The country imports from a total of 170 countries (including Switzerland, which is represented in this country with all kinds of specialties). It is a strategic diversification with good reason: Malaysia, the agricultural country par excellence, is close to the border and could cover Singapore's needs many times over. However, political relations with Kuala Lumpur have not always been harmonious in the past. Sporadically, the northern neighbor reminds the small state that it is largely dependent on the water supply from Malaysia.

The city-state has good climatic conditions. But agriculture currently only accounts for 0.02% of gross domestic product. Thanks to technology and intensive production, that should now change.

Singapore's authorities have regularly emphasized in recent weeks that there is no reason to buy hamsters. The extensive network of trade relationships, the intact sea freight traffic and emergency supplies guaranteed supplies to the 5.7 million inhabitants. In fact, there is no shortage of goods that are easy to hoard, such as instant noodles or eggs, in this country; Even hand disinfectants were available in almost every store at normal prices.

Corona exposes the vulnerable in supply chains

Nevertheless: The Covid-19 epidemic has shown how fragile the global supply chains and how dangerous the specialization associated with them have become against the background of such a serious incident. Storage, redundancy, stocks and self-sufficiency as a back-up are suddenly seen in a different light than before - namely positively. And what applies to industry should also change attitudes towards agriculture.

The idea of ​​developing Singapore into an agricultural nation still seems a little bold: For decades, urbanization and industrialization have been promoted, the financial center has been developed, academization has been promoted and people have got used to the fact that everything is always freshly available. In addition, land and water are scarce anyway.

In terms of image, working in agriculture in Singapore has always been a problem. They were counted among the sunset industries, and the majority of the population associated them with unskilled labor, day laborers, filth and backwardness. School children know the zoo, but many have never seen a real laying hen or pig up close, and not all of them know where the milk comes from.

Agro startups are driving change

Recently, however, a change has been noticeable: even in the somewhat sterile Singapore there has been a return to nature and local products in recent years. School classes now visit local vegetable producers and small farms where cows and goats are kept. Domestic and foreign star chefs have recently tried to distinguish themselves by referring to local products. District bakeries and microbreweries are also in, and garden centers are busy on weekends.

With Meod, Sky Greens and ComCrop, all companies that specialize in vertical cultivation methods, as well as Sustenir and Pacific Agro, local startups have also emerged. They combine vegetable growing with high-tech and promote pesticide-free cultivation. All of this is becoming increasingly popular.

Fish and vegetables are in the foreground

The vision “30 by 2030” is about more than nostalgia, lifestyle and marketing. This is also based on a sober assessment of the situation and prevention: So far, the water supply in Singapore has been considered the real Achilles heel; Thanks to processing and desalination plants, self-sufficiency has now been increased to 50%. The Covid 19 crisis has shown that the foreign dependency for the supply of basic food is much greater. According to the AVA statistics, it averages 90%. For example, 500 million eggs are produced locally every year; the consumption amounts to 2 billion, which means that the foreign dependency is 75%. For rice, fish and vegetables, the corresponding figures are 100, 90 and 87%, respectively.

It has not yet been precisely defined how Singapore's “cultivation battle” should look in detail. It is also unclear which product categories should be specifically promoted in order to achieve the 30% target. Because only 1% of the state's area is eligible for agriculture, the staple food rice must be excluded from the outset. In addition to eggs, the focus is therefore on fish and vegetables. In the case of fish, 30% self-sufficiency would correspond to an annual production of 28,500 t. In the case of vegetables, the same requirement would have to weigh around 50,000 t.

The goals are ambitious

In both cases the goal is ambitious. The country already has 110 fish farms that breed around 6000 t of fish and around 600 t of crustaceans every year. The Apollo Aquaculture Group is considered to be a pioneer here. The company, which previously operated fish farms close to the coast, will soon also be commissioning a multi-storey fish farm on the mainland. But most fish farms are small businesses that would have to invest heavily and technologically upgrade to increase production.

Local vegetable cultivation would also have to be doubled in ten years. This seems feasible by intensifying production and using new approaches. Thanks also to innovations: experiments with space, fertilizer and water-saving cultivation methods began years ago on the roofs of high-rise buildings. Fruits and vegetables from the skyscraper - or at least from the roof or from the terrace - are now a reality. However, the ideas for urban agriculture only met with a real response in this country in the wake of the Covid 19 crisis.