06 July 2008

Singapore's Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) is responsible for our food supply. Their mission:

To ensure a resilient supply of safe food, safeguard the health of animals and plants and facilitate agri-trade for Singapore.
Their goals:
  • Ensure a resilient supply of safe and wholesome food.
  • Safeguard the health of animals, fish and plants.
  • Be a centre of excellence for tropical agritechnology development and services.
  • Facilitate trade in food and agricultural products.
  • Develop a cohesive, innovative and professional workforce.
  • Build a positive image and enhance community outreach.
  • Promote animal welfare.
  • Optimise the utilisation and return on resources.
  • Leverage on IT for efficient service delivery and organisational development.
Sadly, what is not included in their goals is the need to strive for self-sufficiency in food production.

According to AVA's account, we were self-sufficient in the 1970s when it came to the production of poultry, eggs and pork.
We had 14,000 hectares of farmland back then. In the 1980s, unfortunately, large areas of agricultural land were cleared to make way for housing and industry and today we are down to 764 hectares of farmland - 95% of farm area gone.

I inquired NParks about peak oil and food production recently. As they were not responsible for our food supplies, they forwarded my inquiries to AVA and I received the following response:

I thank AVA for their reply but I am troubled with the fact that they wrote "Singapore does not intend to achieve self-sufficiency through local food production".

Surely AVA must be aware of how dependent our food supplies are on crude oil and natural gas. Crude oil, which has probably peaked in production since 2005, is used to run farm machinery, to manufacture pesticides and herbicides, to package food, and to fuel trucks, ships and planes which transport food over thousands of miles to unload their cargo here.

Conventional natural gas, a major feedstock for use in fertilizer production will peak between 2018 and 2020 according to some estimates.
Modern industrial agriculture really is indirectly the eating of fossil fuels. Our current system of energy-chemical-intensive farming is unsustainable and will be short-lived.

Does AVA not realise the adverse ramifications that dwindling fossil fuels will have on global food production? How then can we not strive to be self-sufficient in food production? I am baffled. As difficult as it is, we have to try one way or another and perhaps learn from the Cubans who successfully carried out organic sustainable urban farming when they had their own artificial peak oil after the collapse of the former Soviet Union. See video below:

(One of the first steps to food self-sufficiency is to deal with the overpopulation problem here in Singapore.)

As food supply is a matter of national security, I believe the government should not dismiss the idea of food self-sufficiency just because it is "commercially unviable" or "economically unfeasible". We don't outsource our national defence to mercernaries or foreign armies, so why should we be so dependent on foreigners for 90% of our food supplies? There are five aspects to our nation's Total Defence concept:
Military, Civil, Economic, Social and Psychological Defence. What is sorely lacking is Food and Energy Defence.

Some have argued that we need not worry because Singapore is rich enough to outbid other food importing nations to secure our food supplies. This view is wrong for two reasons:

1) Money or the system of finance and banking that we have now will become highly unstable and unreliable when the world economies grind to a halt and contract due to peak oil. It is likely that paper currency and dollars will no longer be accepted as payment for international trade because buyers and sellers will realise that they do not hold any life-preserving or life-enchancing value when compared to tangible and material goods such as food and oil. Commerce and trade will be done via barter. See reports here and here.

2) Resource nationalism and the hoarding of commodities will be common in future geopolitics. No government wants to see food unrest and riots in its own country and one way to prevent it is to ban food exports to satisfy local demand. In fact, we have already witnessed it in recent months where Indonesia, Cambodia, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, and India have banned grain exports.

I think food shortages are very likely to occur here in Singapore within the next 10 years. When a nation with a population density of 6,500 per sq km (one of the highest in the world) goes hungry, social order will get very ugly. I just pray that I am wrong.

Related blog posts:




Further information:

How Peak Oil Could Lead to Starvation

Threats of Peak Oil to the Global Food Supply

Why Our Food is so Dependent on Oil

Eating Fossil Fuels