Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Food For ThoughtHow Singapore became the World’s Most Food-Secure Country

By Josiah KekPublished February 17, 2019

Image of SkyGreens' vertical farming system in Singapore
Singapore, a small country that imports 90% of its food, tops the 2018 Global Food Security Index—putting it ahead of self-sufficient countries such as the United States. The secret to its success is a mix of food source diversification, production optimization and long-term planning.

Across the world, climate change and population growth are hurting the affordability and availability of food supplies. According to the FAO, world hunger in 2017 rose for the third year in a row, owing to an upsurge in extreme weather events such as heatwaves and severe flooding.

For Singapore, a city-state no bigger than New York City, food security has always been a matter of national security. Singapore’s decades-long efforts to guarantee its food security have borne fruit, with the country coming in tops on the 2018 Global Food Security Index. Released by the Economic Intelligence Unit, the index measures how affordable, available, safe and up-to-standard food is across 113 countries. This puts it ahead of major food producers such as the United States (3rd), Australia (6th) and Canada (9th). Singapore has achieved its remarkable food security through three key strategies—food source diversification, optimization of local production and long-term planning.  

Firstly, Singapore diversifies its food sources extensively, importing its food from 180 countries in 2017. Considering that Singapore imports 90% of its food from overseas, it is highly vulnerable to food supply disruptions and price shocks. Food source diversification is an effective cushion against such risks. The government plays a strong role in this—it arranges overseas sourcing trips for Singaporean traders to build networks with potential suppliers. Going a step further, food source diversification is enhanced through overseas contract farming projects. In 2012, Singapore’s government launched a Sino-Singapore food zone in Jilin Province, China, where pork is raised under strict hygiene controls, such an integrated food safety system and animal quarantine stations. As a Chinese government–certified Food and Mouth Disease Free Zone (DFZ)—one of only three in China—the food zone guarantees Singapore a safe source of food imports in case of food shortages elsewhere.

Secondly, Singapore optimizes local food production on the limited space it has e for agriculture food production—less than 1% of its total land area. This is achieved through government investment in new farming methods. For instance, the Agricultural Productivity Fund co-funds up to S$2m for food farms that test-bed new farming techniques such as hydroponics. As a result of hydroponics adoption, local vegetable production rose by 30% from 2005 to 2014.  Furthermore, the Singapore government supports companies involved in agricultural R&D. One such company, SkyGreens, received government seed funding to develop “A-Gro-Gro”—a vertical farming system offering yields of up to ten times that of traditional land-based farming. Even though local food production still falls far short of demand, it can tide the country over if trade routes into Singapore are ever severed.   

Lastly, Singapore views the issue of food security through a long-term strategic lens. In anticipation of future food shortages due to climate change, the government set up Singapore Food Agency (SFA) in 2018. SFA is a government agency wholly devoted to food security. It works with industry partners to develop climate-resilient farming solutions and advanced food manufacturing techniques. As for contingency planning for food shortages, Singapore adopts a whole-of-government approach. In 2012, the government formed an Inter-Ministry Committee on Food Security, comprising food agencies, the foreign affairs ministry and even the police, to identify the risks and vulnerabilities in Singapore’s food security. Such a strategic and comprehensive approach to food security has made Singapore well prepared for food-related contingencies.

All in all, the Singapore story of food security is as remarkable as it is instructive. It shows us that food security does not equate to self-sufficiency, as Singapore produces barely 10% of its food but leads the world in food availability and affordability. Instead, food security hinges on sound policies such as food source diversification, optimization of production and long-term contingency planning. As food supplies come under increasing strain, countries can afford to pick a lesson or two from Singapore’s plate.