Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat at the Singapore International Agri-Food Week 2021 on 15 November 2021.
Mr Lim Boon Heng,
Chairman of Temasek Holdings
Mr Dilhan Pillay Sandrasegara,
CEO of Temasek Holdings
Ambassadors, Ladies and gentlemen,
A very good evening to everyone
Thank you for inviting me to the inaugural Singapore International Agri-Food Week. The world is facing an increasing global food challenge. What we are seeing is a “K-shaped” phenomenon. With a growing middle class, affluent consumers are prepared to pay more for quality food, especially for those that are tasty, healthy, and safe. The growing demand for meat and seafood is adding to carbon emissions. Yet food security remains an issue as the world’s population grows. Around 800 million people go to bed hungry every night. Rising temperatures have adversely impacted crop yield, with a disproportionate effect on the poor.
Tackling the Three Zeros of the Global Food Challenge
It is most timely that we are gathered here today to look at sustainable food production, both to meet the demands of a growing middle class and to provide food security for all. The opportunities are vast. In Asia alone, food expenditure is expected to double from US$4 trillion today to US$8 trillion by 2030. Half of the increase in Asia is attributed to discretionary consumer spending, while the other half is to feed an increasing population. To meet these food needs, an estimated total investment of US$1.55 trillion is needed by 2030. But we cannot simply invest in more of the same. There is a limit on arable land and acceptable carbon emissions for food production. The consumer palate of the middle class is also evolving. We must innovate to break out of current constraints to deliver value to consumers and ensure food security for all. Global investment in Food- and Agri-Tech have been increasing, during the pandemic. Temasek has invested over US$8 billion in the agri-food sector over the past decade. Singapore has also made R&D in food a key part of our research efforts, and we are building up deep capabilities in food sciences in A*STAR. We also have the Singapore Food Story R&D programme, which is focused on innovations in sustainable urban food solutions, advanced biotech in protein production, and food safety science and innovation.
To start-off this weeklong dialogue, let’s share some food for thought on how we can further advance food innovation. Through our collective effort and ingenuity, we can tackle the “three zeros” of the global food challenge – Zero Hunger, Zero Waste, and Net Carbon Zero.
Let me start with Zero Hunger. The world’s population is estimated to increase to 10 billion people by 2050. But the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that crop yield, may drop by up to 30% in 2050, due to climate change. To compound matters, one-third of global food production is by smallholder farmers. They have very limited access to capital and productivity, much less the ability to innovate and experiment with new techniques. A step change is required to feed the world.
Technology can make a big difference in improving crop yield and the quality of crops. With big data and IoT, we can transform food production and farm management, especially in an urban high-intensity farming environment. In addition, improvements in agricultural inputs can improve yield, quality, and the nutritional value of crops. One example is Commonwealth Greens, a local indoor vegetable farm, that leverages smart sensors and data analytics to optimise crop yield, nutrition and taste. Commonwealth Greens can produce many times more vegetables on the same plot of land. Its vegetables are also pesticide-free. Another example is Blue Ocean Aquaculture Technology, or BOAT. This is an indoor land-based fish farm located in an industrial building. Through nanobubble technology and with a recirculating aquaculture system, fish can be farmed in a water-efficient way at high density.
Tech can also help smallholder farmers access productivity tools and finance. Digitalisation can help smallholder farmers with market access and prevent them from being marginalised in the value chain. The use of data-driven solutions can also empower them to increase crop yield. Fefifo, a Singapore-headquartered start-up, develops and rent out ready-to-farm spaces called “co-farms”. Besides providing the infrastructure and technology, Fefifo also onboards smallholder farmers to their platform which digitises their seed-to-sale protocols, empowering farmers with more data and a sales channel to reliable contract buyers. Through innovation and technology, we can produce more nutritious food in a way that is more sustainable, and at a price that is affordable. This is critical to tackling the challenge of Zero Hunger.
Let me now touch on the next zero – Zero Waste. Food shortages is in part exacerbated by food waste. Globally, 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted each year. This is equivalent to one-third of the total food produced for human consumption. In Singapore alone, we generated around more than 650 thousand tonnes of food waste last year. This is equivalent to 1.5 bowls of rice per person per day. The amount of food wasted globally each year is staggering.
Technology can help reduce food waste along the supply chain. Through the end-to-end digitalisation of supply chain, we can significantly improve the efficiency of the movement of goods, and track this movement in real time. Shorter transportation time reduces spoilage, while real time visibility reduces the need for importers to add a buffer in their orders. Innovation in cold chain and other technologies have also enabled us to keep food fresher for longer. One example is Apeel Sciences, which Temasek has invested in. The company invented an edible, tasteless, and odorless plant-based protective coating for fruits and vegetables. This reduces water loss and oxidation, which keeps food fresher for longer.
Many parts of society have also taken steps to reduce food waste. The best way to manage food waste is to avoid generating it in the first place. Singapore recently launched the third nationwide Say Yes to Waste Less Campaign. This year, 169 partners have committed to various actions to reduce food wastage. These include prompting customers to order just enough food, planning meals in advance, and making use of blemished or surplus food. There are also many ground-up initiatives to reduce food waste. For example, social enterprise “Just Dabao” redistributes unsold surplus food by connecting consumers and eateries through their platform, which offers the surplus food at a significant discount.
In addition to minimising the production of food waste, there are various initiatives to close the food waste loop. At Our Tampines Hub, food waste from the hawker centre and restaurants are processed on-site into compost. The compost is used at the Hub’s rooftop garden and distributed to residents. In Singapore, new developments are now required to set aside space for on-site food waste treatment. New uses have also been found for food waste by converting them into other useful products. One example is NUS start-up Kosmode Health, which processes barley spent grains into fine protein powder that is used to manufacture high-fibre protein noodle.
Through a combination of strategies, we can cut down on food waste. This in turns relieves the pressure on food production, making sure less go hungry.
Net Carbon Zero
This brings me to the third “zero” – Net Carbon Zero. Not many people realise this, but food production contributes about one-third of global greenhouse emission. It is not sustainable to continue to scale production as is. The 1.5 degrees target for climate change cannot be met if food production remains unchanged. More efficient food production and reducing food waste will cut our carbon footprint, but this is not enough. Meat is a major contributor of food-related carbon emissions. One way is to shift consumption patterns away from meat and seafood, to eating more vegetables, fruits, and nuts. This not only leads to lower carbon emissions, it is also healthier. Increasingly, there is another option – alternative proteins. I have tried some of these products, and they taste almost like the real thing. Alternative protein is much more sustainable compared to traditional cattle and poultry farming. For example, plant-based JUST Egg uses 98% less water, has a 93% smaller carbon footprint and uses 86% less land than conventional animal sources. A JUST Egg production facility is now being built in Singapore. We are also seeing an increasingly wider range of alternative proteins emerging – from Impossible beef, to TiNDLE chicken, and Perfect Day Milk.
But with the prevalence of novel food, there are also greater concerns about food safety. These foods do not have a history of being consumed by humans and should be evaluated carefully for food safety. There is currently no international set of guidelines for novel foods. The Singapore Food Agency has taken the lead to establish a regulatory framework on the safety requirements for novel food. It has also established a Novel Food Safety Expert Working Group to provide scientific advice on these matters. Earlier this morning, the organisers convened the Roundtable on Novel Food Regulations. Such exchanges will raise awareness on new technologies for novel food production, discuss the challenges in safety assessment, and explore opportunities to advance the regulatory agenda while encouraging food innovations.
Strengthening Food Collaboration
Having set out the ways to tackle the three zeros of the global food challenge, the question is how can we get there?
I am pleased to learn that Temasek will be launching the Asia Sustainable Foods Platform. This end-to-end platform seeks to accelerate the pace of adoption for sustainable food at every stage of a FoodTech company’s growth. Temasek is starting this new Platform in partnerships with like-minded stakeholders. The Platform will partner A*STAR to build the Food Tech Innovation Centre, to facilitate the commercialisation of R&D. A total of over S$30 million will be invested in the next three years to help startups with their product and process development, especially for alternative proteins. In addition, the Platform is seeking to offer contract manufacturing services for plant-based protein products and microbial proteins. The former is a joint venture with German firm CREMER, while the latter is a partnership with American company ADM.
Congratulations to Temasek and your partners on this endeavour.
Finally, I warmly congratulate Temasek and its partners on tonight’s successful launch of the Singapore International Agri-Food Week. This annual affair serves as a valuable platform to exchange ideas and forge new collaboration, with Singapore as a global node for agri-food innovation.
Let me conclude by saying that this event this evening is just an appetiser. I hope it will lead to main courses of changes and collaboration, to tackle the global food challenge. With the outstanding minds gathered here, and your healthy appetite to make a difference, we can create a better, more livable world for everyone. If we can tackle the global food challenge, it would be sweet dessert for all of us in this world. Thank you.