More awareness needed on importance of food security
29 August 2013
We interviewed Ms Chelsea Wan of jurong Frog Farm, carried out some background research, and submitted the following letter to TODAY on Ms Wan's behalf.
Dear TODAY's Editor,
I read the article “The rising challenge of our fragile food security” by Barry Desker, Dean of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies of NTU, on TODAY Online on 22-August, with much interest. Mr Desker rightly highlighted that food security is a “politically sensitive” issue, especially for import-dependent nations like Singapore. He went on to elaborate that “sharp increases in the price of key food imports”, or “export bans by major food suppliers” could have serious impact on Singaporeans.
Food security should indeed be a concern of every Singaporean. Just because agriculture and farming is out-of-sight for many of us, it should not be out of our minds. Among my peers, I find that young Singaporeans are not aware of the challenges facing food supplies, and don't seem to care. I hope my generalisation is not true, and that many Singaporean do realise how lucky they are to be able to afford food easily.
As a second-generation frog-farmer in Singapore, I am reminded daily of the challenge of food security, and to make a contirubtion to reduce Singapore's reliance on imports. It is interesting to note that Singapore ranks 16th among 107 countries on Global Food Security Index 2013, as compiled by the Economist Intellignece Unit. (http://foodsecurityindex.eiu.com/Country/Details#Singapore ) We score 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 index considers the core issues of affordability, availability, and quality of food in each of the countries surveyed. This ranking, I believe, is testament to our high standards of living, our government agencies' good work regulating quality of food, and our government's and social welfare agencies' capable assistance to help the poorer Singaporeans with food.
We should not take high levels of food security for granted. In my opinion, we as a nation can take the following steps:
1) Do more to boost local production of food, even if not for self-sufficiency, to decrease our reliance on import markets, which might raise prices on a whim. This might be made possible through agricultural R&D which might help us maximise the limited land and water resources that we have. At our frog farm, we have successfully done R&D to harvest the frog Fallopian tubes (which were usually thrown away) and processed it into edible Hashima.
2) Look at alternative sources of food. Changing habits might be difficult, but if people are willing to try out different sources of protein, such as frog meat, the strain on food supplies might be eased.
3) Look at ways to reduce the environmental impact in the process of food production. Mr Barry 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, rather than “sub-optimal use of scarce water resources” as mentioned in Mr Desker's article.
At our frog farm, we have worked with our local Tertiary institutions on ways to recycle the frog skin by making it into usable hide, rather than throwing away. Research is underway too on finding out the properties of frog fats. We have done our internal R&D on processing the frog fats into usable oil for lamps. We printed our in-house magazine “A Frog’s Blog” only on 100% recycled paper. 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.
4) Educate our young Singaporeans more about agriculture and food production, so that they can learn to better appreciate what they have. Many of our senior-citizens are familiar with agriculture, as Singapore used to have many 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 getting enough food to eat, and may take things for granted.
I hope all Singaporeans appreciate food, waste less, and count our blessings that we don't have to battle with malnutrition as our forefathers once did.