The global market for foodstuffs is depleting water sources in many parts of the world quicker than they can naturally be refilled.
The complex trade is increasing pressure on non-renewable groundwater, mainly used for irrigating crops such as rice, wheat and cotton.
Pakistan, the US and India are the countries exporting the most food grown with unsustainable water.
Researchers say that without action, food supplies will be threatened.
Around 43% of the water used to irrigate crops around the world comes from underground aquifers, as opposed to rivers and lakes. Many of these sources are being used up quicker than they can be refilled from rainfall.
Back in 2000, experts believed that non-renewable resources sustained 20% of global irrigation. In the 10 years to 2010, this increased by more than a fifth.
Many developed countries are aware of issues in the depletion of groundwater and have put measures in place, such as urban water restrictions in California during the recent years of drought. However, in developing nations, the mechanisms to restrict water may not exist.
“Pakistan for instance is quite complex,” said Dr Dalin. “They can make good money out of exporting rice, but the framework is not really there to account for the impact on the environment. It is true that eventually it will affect the production there.”
The researchers argue that while governments need to have greater awareness about the impacts of production on water resources, consumers in richer countries should also think about water when considering the foods that they buy.
“The products that consumers buy at a supermarket may have very different environmental impacts depending on where they are produced and how they are irrigated,” said co-author Yoshihide Wada, from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.
“In order to help consumers make more sustainable choices about their food, producers should consider adding water labels that make these impacts clear.”
As Singapore’s food supply chain diversifies, how is food safety and security ensured in Singapore?
Source (Full Article): http://www.todayonline.com
With the abundance of food – indeed managing food waste is a headache for policymakers – food security is probably the last thing on Singaporeans’ minds. An irony, some experts noted, given that more than 90 per cent of the food needed to feed the Republic’s population comes from overseas.
“Supermarkets are full of food… (but) Singapore (becomes) very vulnerable when there are major disturbances to the production of food,” said Professor Paul Teng, a food security expert at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS). “In that sense, it’s easy (for Singaporeans) to get a false sense of food security… If there is a big pandemic tomorrow, nobody can move (food) around, how is Singapore going to react?”
Earlier this month, the issue of food security came under the spotlight, when the Government announced that new plots of farm land with longer leases have been set aside to promote high-tech farming. National Development Minister Lawrence Wong noted that growing food locally is another way to enhance food security, apart from diversifying Singapore’s food sources.
Food security has shot to the top of many countries’ agenda in recent years, due to the havoc on farmlands caused by climate change, explosive growth of the middle class in Asia and the resulting spike in food consumption, as well as unpredictable geo-politics and international relations – to name but a few factors. Over the past decade, the Government has embarked on extensive efforts to diversify its food sources. As a result, Singapore today imports food from 170 countries, up from 160 in 2007, according to data from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA). Over the same period, the number of countries from which Singapore imports fish increased from 70 to 80, for example, while the figure for fruit imports went up from 40 to 60.
Malaysia and Brazil are the top sources, with substantial supply from several other regional countries: More than a third (35 per cent) of Singapore’s supply of chicken, 17 per cent of fish, 93 per cent of duck and 76 per cent of eggs come from across the Causeway. Brazil accounts for almost half (47 per cent) of Singapore’s imported chicken, 30 per cent of pork, and 53 per cent of beef. Vietnam, India and Thailand are the major suppliers of rice to Singapore. In terms of fish imports, Indonesia (21 per cent) and Vietnam (20 per cent) are the other the main sources, although 77 other countries provide 42 per cent of Singapore’s supply.
While Singapore’s food security is not under any immediate threat, experts stressed the need for policymakers to start relooking its strategy – including ramping up domestic supply – in light of evolving global trends. While Singapore has a sound policy of building resilience in its food supplies, more needs to be done in an increasingly uncertain and volatile external environment, they said. “To talk about food security at (this) point in time without recognising (Singapore’s) vulnerability is kidding ourselves,” said Prof Teng, who stressed the need for better risk management by having key food sources that are more geographically diverse.
Policymakers will need to come up with new strategies, said Associate Professor Christopher Vas from Murdoch University. “They say, when things are not broken, don’t try and fix it… But as things continue to evolve, bilateral relations might get tenuous, sources of supply could be challenged,” said Assoc Prof Vas, who noted the risks of over-reliance on a country for one particular product.
THREATS AND CHALLENGES
In recent years, there was no shortage of global food scares and supply disruptions.
During the 2007 and 2008 global food crisis, which was caused by a myriad of factors including droughts and rising oil prices, Singaporeans had to pay more for food, as prices of imported food spiked 12.1 per cent on average. The authorities stepped in by reassuring the public that there was ample supply – including a two-month stockpile that rice importers are required to keep in government warehouses – and advised people against hoarding rice. Help was also on hand for less well-to-do families.
In 2014, prices of eggs rose when Malaysian farms were suspended from exporting eggs to Singapore after their eggs had been found to contain Salmonella Enteritidis — a bacterium that causes food poisoning. Most recently, Brazil was involved in a rotten-meat scandal in March, after its police found that major meatpackers had bribed health inspectors to keep rotten meat on the market.
Gradually, climate change and changing dietary preferences would tilt the balance of global food demand and supply, the experts said.
One of the biggest changes in the global food security landscape has been the dependency on trade for countries to secure their food supplies, noted Prof Teng, an adjunct senior fellow at RSIS’ Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies. “Even in the most secure countries like the US, they also import food. The reason is that no country produces everything it wants, mainly because the consumers, the society, has gotten more diverse in its demands for food,” he said.
This is particularly so in countries where a middle-class population is growing quickly, he added.
Globally, more protein is being consumed by people. To meet this demand, countries have to import even more animal feed, such as corn and soybeans, from countries in the Western Hemisphere.
On the supply side, there is also declining land and water resources for farming – the latter partly due to contaminated water, and the longer dry seasons or late monsoons which are symptoms of climate change.
Farmers around the world are also growing older but not enough millennials are willing to take over the job.
“The net result is that, from year to year, we’re not as certain of our food supplies as previously,” Prof Teng warned.
Apart from health scares, RSIS research fellow Tamara Nair, who does work on food security and hunger in the region, pointed out that geopolitical tensions and developments in countries where Singapore import food from could disrupt its supplies and affect prices, given how inter-connected the world is today. “Any socio-political tension in one of our major source countries will inevitably affect us in one way or another. They might decide to temporarily stop exports for instance, which can affect our supply briefly, at least until we activate our other sources,” she said. Neverthelesss, she noted that while there is rising protectionist sentiments, food trade is unlikely to suffer given that all countries benefit from it.
Apart from diversifying food sources, Professor William Chen, the director of Nanyang Technological University’s food, science and technology programme, noted the need to uphold food safety as well through stringent regulations. In extreme cases, food imports could potentially be used as a weapon if countries let their guard down, he said. “It is very important that we can pre-empt rather than react,” he said. This means developing new technology to detect suspicious substances in food, he added.
Despite its high dependence on food imports, Singapore is regarded as one of the most food-secure countries around the world.
Still, other experts including Prof Teng argued that Singapore’s food security has to be measured more holistically, and take into account the Republic’s ability to withstand disruptions to its food supplies.
The global food crisis in 2007 and 2008 prompted the Singapore authorities to conduct a study to analyse the country’s food supply resilience.
In recent years, they have conducted sourcing trips abroad and started the practice of overseas contract farming. An example was the Sino-Singapore Jilin Food Zone in northeastern China.
First mooted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in 2008, the idea was for AVA to provide technical advice to the Jilin authorities to maintain a disease-free zone and subsequently, diversify Singapore’s food sources by regularly exporting key food items to the Republic.
But the 1,450 sq km food zone – roughly double the size of Singapore – has been hit by delays.
An integrated pig farm was initially slated to start exporting pork to Singapore by the end of 2014 but construction works for the project only began last month. As the zone’s first livestock project, it is expected to rear up to one million pigs, of which, some will be exported to Singapore.
Nevertheless, the initiative exported its first product to Singapore towards the end of last year, with the Fragrance 43ºN japonica rice being sold at FairPrice Xtra and FairPrice Finest outlets.
Responding to TODAY’s queries, Mr Yeo Chun Cheng, Ascendas-Singbridge Group executive vice-president of sustainable urban development, said the integrated pig farming project will be developed in two phases and the first batch of pork is expected to reach Singapore by 2019.
Farms here provide less than 10 per cent of Singapore’s overall food supply – namely fish, vegetables and eggs. Some experts felt there is scope to double it.
To that end, AVA has also urged local growers to invest in technology to maximise their agricultural produce, which is meant to be a buffer when overseas food supplies are disrupted.
Earlier this month, the Government announced that it would be releasing 60ha of land in Lim Chu Kang and Sungei Tengah for farms to boost the local food supply. This comes as the leases of 62 farms in Lim Chu Kang will expire in 2019.
The Government’s long-standing targets are for local farmers to provide 30 per cent of Singapore’s supply of eggs, 15 per cent of fish and 10 per cent of leafy vegetables. But the farms here have so far fallen short on two counts: They are producing 24 per cent of eggs and 10 per cent of fish. Nevertheless, the target for leafy vegetables has been exceeded (12 per cent).
Responding to TODAY’s queries, Mr Melvin Chow, group director of AVA’s food supply resilience group, reiterated that given its heavy dependence on food imports, Singapore is “considerably exposed” to global price and supply fluctuations, as well as persistent threats of food supply disruption and food contamination internationally.
The country is also vulnerable to global driving factors, such as population growth, rising urbanisation and incomes, climate change, disease outbreaks and scarcity of resources, he added. “These trends are intensifying, and their interplay is heightening food security challenges more than ever,” he said.
To overcome these challenges, the AVA adopts three strategies: Food source diversification, internationalisation and local production.
Diversifying food sources would mitigate disruptions to food supply from a particular region, which can be caused by extreme weather and climate events. “By buying from many different sources, Singapore is better buffered against potential food shortages and price volatility,” said Mr Chow.
AVA said it is constantly exploring new overseas sources of food, provided that their internal food safety standards meet its criteria. Some new food sources include Sarawak where Singapore has been importing frozen pork from since 2015. Other examples include importing quail eggs from Malaysia since last year and hen eggs from Thailand from this year.
By venturing overseas, local farmers can open up new markets and overcome the land constraints in Singapore. They can also help enhance Singapore’s food security by, for instance, exporting their produce back to the Republic. Having our local food producers successfully operating overseas will strengthen our food security,” said Mr Chow. He cited the examples two local farms which have gone to other countries to develop vertical farms: Apollo Aquaculture in Brunei, and Sky Greens in Thailand and China.
Turning to the local agricultural production in Singapore, Mr Chow said this remains an important aspect of food security and forms a “crucial buffer” should overseas food supplies be disrupted.
AVA has been working with farmers to raise production through modern practices and technology, improve productivity, manage animal diseases, monitor water quality and promote local produce to consumers.
Farmers can also tap on AVA’s S$63million Agriculture Productivity Fund to modernise and invest in innovative technologies and advanced farming systems.
While these strategies have served Singapore well, Mr Chow said AVA will continue to “review current measures and develop new ones”. “We recognise that understanding and building resilience to the effects of climate change is an on-going effort,” he added.
MAKING FOOD SECURITY A PRIORITY
Beyond national strategies, Dr Tortajada said that attitudes have to change as well, in order to enhance Singapore’s food security. Citing the problem of food waste, she called for more investments in public education. “(Food wastage) is putting more pressure on the planet, in terms of land and water and you pollute more to bring food to the people who will throw it,” she said.
Last year, Singapore generated 791,000 tonnes of food waste. Of this amount, only 14 per cent was recycled.
Some experts pointed out that Singapore faces similar vulnerabilities when it comes to food and water. And while both are considered strategic resources critical to national security, there appears to be greater impetus from the Government to strive for self-sufficiency in water.
The face of farming may change over time from rural to urban, low tech to very high tech. With more farms near consumers and restaurants, the problems of food wastage from transport and storage issues may be further reduced, resulting in more food for people?
The paradox: Nigeria is Africa’s 2nd richest nation. However, the Northeastern corner of the country has been marred by conflict and clashes with militants, causing it to be isolated from aid. Information about the crisis is also limited due to the lack of action by the government and the lack of journalists and aid groups on the ground.
As the conflict continues, the people’s living conditions continue to worsen as food and basic medical supplies remain out of reach.
Across the northeastern corner of this country, more than 3 million people displaced and isolated by the militants are facing one of the world’s biggest humanitarian disasters. Every day, more children are dying because there isn’t enough food. Curable illnesses are killing others. Even polio has returned.
About a million and a half of the victims have fled the Islamist extremists and are living in makeshift camps, bombed-out buildings and host communities, receiving minimal supplies from international organizations. An additional 2 million people, according to the United Nations, are still inaccessible because of the Boko Haram fighters, who control their villages or patrol the surrounding areas.
“We will see, I think, a famine unlike any we have ever seen anywhere,” unless immediate assistance is provided, said Toby Lanzer, the top U.N. official focused on humanitarian aid for the region.
The staggering hunger crisis created by the insurgents has been largely hidden from view, partly because it has been extremely dangerous for aid groups and journalists to visit the area. But institutional failures have exacerbated the situation: For over a year, the United Nations and humanitarian groups dramatically underestimated the size of the disaster, and the Nigerian government refused to acknowledge the huge number of people going hungry in Africa’s second-richest nation. Thousands of people have already died because of the inaction, aid experts say.
A week after Hurricane Matthew (Oct 2016) hit Haiti, the death toll had climbed to 1,000 people, and United Nations agencies struggled to bring aid to devastated communities. The scope of the destruction on the Caribbean island nation is so dramatic it can be seen from space.
One of the most obvious changes is vegetation loss – this includes the loss of farmland that Haitian’s require for food (many farmers are subsistence farmers)
Another obvious change: the amount of sediment coursing out of the rivers and streams. This is seen from the visible change of the waters in the bay seen above, as exposed soil is washed to rivers and eventually the sea without the protection of roots of vegetation.
Oil spills cause not only enviromental damages to coastlines but also economic impacts and potentially threats to food security especially in coast countries like Singapore, where fish farms are found out at sea.
A day after two ships collided in Johor waters, oil patches were found along coastlines in the north-eastern part of Singapore, while an 800m stretch of Changi Beach was closed on Thursday (Jan 5) to clean up the oil spill.
A second fish farm in the affected area also reported fish deaths from the spill, although the authorities said most farms were spared and impact on supply was “minimal”. Nonetheless, some farms have been told to suspend sales, until food safety tests are completed.
When TODAY visited Mr Timothy Ng from 2 Jays Pte Ltd at his farm off the north-western coast of Pulau Ubin, cleaning personnel could be seen working to remove swathes of black oil.
This was “the largest such incident” to hit his 12-year-old farm, which is among those hit with a suspension. A visibly-disappointed Mr Ng said he could not do much with his fish stock now, except to put aerators into the fish cages to pump in fresh air.
“We cannot feed any fish now, since the food will be contaminated, so for now, we will just have to wait and see,” said Mr Ng, adding that “no more than 10kg” of fish had already died due to the oil spill.
His farm has around 10 tonnes of fish and seafood, and four employees.
In rural northern Myanmar, land is everything.
From the villagers who ply the fields, to the nation’s vast military, every inch of soil has its purpose for someone – a means to feed a family, make a fortune or weaken an enemy.
Yet in Kachin, there is little balance between the meagre and the mighty.
Over decades of civil conflict and military rule, the rights of farmers have withered away. Land grabbing was, and remains, rife and the state government’s Ministry of Agriculture has admitted it is nearly powerless to solve many of the resulting disputes.
Chinese-backed plantations for rubber and bananas are well established across the landscape near Naung Chain. That has not resulted in any influx of local jobs, however.
Most of the workers have migrated here from other states; locals say the hours are long, the pay is low and they prefer not to be tied to labouring for Chinese bosses.
In fact, Chinese land acquisition and control is a point of concern for not just farmers, but the state government as well. There are no exact figures for how much farmland is currently being used by Chinese businesses, but it is estimated by observer groups to be thousands of acres, where mainland workers are hired and produce is sent across the border to be sold.
Land grabs aren’t new, see the post on land grabs in Zimbabwe in an earlier post. Similar in both cases, local farmers suffer:
“At that time, we just did hillside cultivation. We grew plants like rice, yams and sesame,” the 64-year-old said in her home in the dusty village.
But the land her family tended sat adjacent to an emerging rubber plantation and six years ago, she said, it was confiscated and sold to a tycoon businessman by a corrupt local administrator. She received no compensation and it is now being rented to a Chinese company.
“We only do farming so we didn’t have any income. We had a lack of food supplies. We had to rent cows and buffaloes because we didn’t own any. We struggled a lot,” she said.
There are 2 ways to face the threat of climate change:
1. Climate change mitigation – reduce the effect of climate change by reducing ghg emissions,
2. Climate change adaptation – accept that things are changing, consider ways to survive in the new conditions
It doesn’t mean that the 2 are mutually exclusive (an either-or choice) – one can adapt but still work to mitigate climate change’s impacts.
The Nat Geo article discusses how international organisations like the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) works with Egyptian farmers, who have for centuries been relied on the Nile River and consistent weather conditions for farming, to adapt to climate change and find new ways of growing crops.
Fortunately for Regaa and his peers, there is some help at hand. The FAO has launched 15 schools across five regions. Here, in informal settings such as the field shack, groups of 15 to 25 farmers meet once a week for four months to talk through their struggles and receive instruction in more efficient agricultural techniques. “We teach them to pick better seeds, to disinfect them before planting, and to level the soil—this is crucial. It saves water and improves germination,” says Zahra Ahmed, FAO’s lead project manager in Egypt.
And despite some early opposition from older agricultural laborers, who’ve regarded the reforming outsiders with suspicion, most indications so far suggest Ahmed and her counterparts might be onto something. The Beni Suef farmers who’ve adhered to their coach’s advice have seen their yields grow so much—often at least 50-60 percent, that the governor has pledged to roll the teaching scheme out across his entire portion of the Nile Valley.