Singapore’s food vulnerability

By Murray Bourne, 16 Oct 2011

Today is World Food Day and it's also Blog Action Day (#BAD11) with this year's theme being Food.

I was suprised when I first arrived in Singapore some years ago how vulnerable they were in terms of food and water.

Singapore is one of the most densely settled nations in the world, at just over 7,000 people per sq km (3rd in rank after Macau at 20,000 people per sq km and Monaco at 15,000 people per sq km).

It's a small island, only 40 km by 22 km, giving a total land area of just 700 sq km. The government decided early on to use the limited land for housing, commerce and transport, and to import nearly all its food. Currently, only 1% of the land area is used for food production and Singapore imports 90% of its food. It is estimated that Singaporeans throw out 570 million kg of food scraps each year.

There was an interesting article yesterday in Singapore's Straits Times newspaper by 2 National University of Singapore (NUS) researchers, From garden city to urban farms (no longer available).

The article drew parallels with the proven improvement in Singapore's water fortunes and the potential for increasing food production here.

At Independence in 1965, Singapore imported nearly all of its water from neighboring Malaysia. Because of the often shaky relationship with Malaysia, Singapore put effort into reducing its water dependency and now is currently 60% self-sufficient in water as a result of water recycling and desalination. It plans to be completely water-independent by 2061 when the final water agreement with Malaysia expires.

The NUS researchers believe it is possible to produce 30% of Singapore's requirements of eggs, 15% of fish and 10% of leafy vegetables using "vertical farms" (on the sides or tops of buildings) by 2015.

It makes a lot of sense to me. I'd certainly like something to eat if for some reason incoming cargo was blocked.

The story reminds me of David Suzuki's documentary on Cuba's inner-city farming methods, a necessity after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disappearance of abundant cheap oil. There's no reason why it couldn't be done in Singapore.

Yes, let's take care of the Earth - our next dinner depends on it. Probably one of the best ways to do this is for city-dwellers to take ownership and responsibility for the production of at least some of their own food.

After all, it worked for thousands of years of evolution.

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