Welcome to the Earth Month series, where we highlight environmentally-focused food as well as inspiring stories by people in Southeast Asia, to help you celebrate our planet.
When we think about Earth Month or climate change or living a more sustainable lifestyle, we mostly concern ourselves with things like shopping more sustainably or ethically for clothes and household items. Maybe we can look for ways to reduce our carbon footprint or stop using plastic bags.
But have you ever wondered about how to be more sustainable with your food? Do you buy ‘organic’ because you think it’s better for the environment? Or do you do it just because it’s supposed to be better for your health?
Do you ever think about where your food actually comes from? Do you know how your food is grown? How much water is used to grow it? What about how it’s harvested? Or how it’s processed? Where is it processed? How does it arrive onto your kitchen shelves and into your refrigerator?
What is Food Security, and why is it important?
Food Security is defined as “the state of having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food” - something that in most Southeast Asian countries can still be a difficult outcome to secure. In Singapore, however, we don’t generally think that this is a problem.
But according to Darren Ho from Urban Farming Partners, Food Security is something Singaporeans should be thinking about. Mr Ho is also a farmer, and he farms edible flowers and microgreens at Petalicious Farm.
“Food security is important in Singapore because, for a country that consumes so much, we rely on 90% of our total food consumption on imports,” explains Mr Ho. “In the event of [a] crisis or environmental calamities, other than water, the food supply will be the next most important aspect, so ensuring we have our own backyard to produce enough food and in a sustainable manner is of most importance.”
Yes, that’s right. We all suffered through the Great Toilet Paper Drought of 2020, but what if it wasn’t just toilet paper that we couldn’t buy? There were great runs on rice, noodles, meat, even flour during the first days of the Coronavirus lockdowns worldwide. So running out of food isn’t really that far of a stretch.
“Two of the most important aspects are the last-mile supply chain and understanding consumer behaviour. The traditional shopper goes to the wet markets or supermarkets, but today online shopping is taking over,” says Mr Ho.
“As such, the way products reach consumers are getting more and more diverse by the day. Local farmers need to work together to achieve economies of scale in a smart and strategic way. The whole of Singapore is based on trades, import and exports, so to turn it around to help local farmers is one of the biggest economic problems we are facing today.”
In countries like Australia and America, the great lockdowns saw lots of people taking up gardening to grow their own vegetables or making even bigger changes and choosing to relocate to country areas so they could actually start to farm.
This is hardly an option in Singapore - yes, you can grow a few herbs and maybe some vegetables on your balcony - but unless you have a landed property or perhaps access to a rooftop, it’s not likely you’ll be able to grow enough to feed a family.
In fact, there are only 220 farms in Singapore. Of that number, more than half are fish farms - both on land and on sea - and there are only 11 that farm anything other than green leafy vegetables. There are no sources of rice grown in Singapore.
Creating food security in Singapore
So, what can we do about it?
Mr Ho suggests we take ownership of the issue and be more responsible about how we consume foodstuffs. “As more of our local products hit the retail shelves, it can only be sustained if you consumers support it continuously!” he says.
ComCrop is Singapore’s first commercial rooftop farming group; it organises urban farming on community rooftops around the island and works with marginalised groups for their workforce. You can also take tours and harvest your own greens, or you can become a volunteer.
Edible Garden City builds and maintains edible, food crop gardens around Singapore for various groups like restaurants, hotels, schools, and other groups with a bit of land to spare. The group also has Citizen Farm, a community-focused sustainable urban farm that supplies various restaurants, but you can also shop for their Citizen Box full of fresh produce.
So, the next time you do your grocery shopping, think about where your food was grown and at what cost to the global environment before you buy.
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