Food is a basic human need, yet its availability in adequate, safe, nutritious and regular amounts for humans is by no means assured. While land and water for food production are both declining at alarming rates due to natural and human causes, the demand for food is still growing as populations all over the world increase.
On 4 July 2018, Professor Paul Teng, an academic from the Nanyang Technological University and Ms Manda Foo, owner and Chief Adventurer at Bollywood Adventures, discussed today’s most pressing food-related issues. The topic is based on the subject of Prof Teng and Ms Foo’s book, Food Matters: Food Security and the Future of Food which was also launched at the event.
They first introduced the book as something that addresses food issues from Singapore’s perspective, being an urban city-state, but with a global context. It also discussed food by looking at the past, present and future. They thus emphasised how the history of food is intertwined with ours. Agriculture, for example, can be considered a cornerstone of civilisation.
While the Green Revolution increased agricultural production, the technological advancements at the time, such as fertilisers and pesticides, were also abused in some countries which unfortunately still continues on today. Hence, to further improve on this, the Doubly Green Revolution was invented. This recognised the trade-off between production and the environment and encourages innovations that grow more food without sacrificing the environment, highlighting the important role of science.
They also briefly described some of the popular methods of production today, including GMO foods and biotechnology that so far have an unblemished record of consumption by millions over the past couple of decades.
Other innovations include urban farming, which allows an environment like Singapore’s to repurpose unused and underused land, gives urbanites access to fresh and nutritious food, shortens the supply chain and introduces a lifestyle that is healing to urban residents. Technology allows cities to overcome the lack of space to grow food.
The changing middle-class diet has a major effect on what farmers produce which trickles down the supply chain. In fact, the Supermarket Phenomenon, a growing phenomenon in Asia, illustrates how the supply chain handled by a few companies dictate the type of food available to consumers. Hence while there are more varieties of food out there, we have less choices available to us. This can lead to overnutrition that results in non-communicable diseases such as diabetes. Because of the Supermarket Phenomenon, we also have less access to micronutrients found in indigenous vegetables.
Fish is an important component of the Asian diet but wild fisheries have been declining due to bad fishing practices and overfishing. Aquaculture is an alternative method which can produce good breeds that can grow faster and cause less negative impact on the environment. Singapore, which has a number of islands and thus coastal waters, has great potential to grow more fish in this manner. It can also look into indoor aquaculture.
To secure tomorrow’s food supply for everyone, countries must keep farmers farming not just by protecting their rural livelihoods but to also promote it. It is therefore necessary to make agriculture relevant and accessible to the next generation to power the next agricultural revolution. The authors also went into the exciting possibilities of food in the future with the aid of science.
Given all the issues and methods addressed, Prof Teng and Ms Foo discussed how we can maintain a balanced view in securing food for the population. They brought up the idea of the “Glocal” model for food security, which is to “Think Global, Act Local”. This is where we continue to import food from around the world while having a certain level of self-production to ensure food supply during emergency situations.
The talk ended with a Q and A session moderated by Prof Shirley Lim, Associate Professor of Natural Sciences & Science Education (NSSE) at the National Institute of Education. Questions addressed included how to get governments to invest in food security to protect its citizens, innovations in land-scarce Singapore, and the impact individuals have.