NTUC FairPrice’s Fresh Food Distribution Centre. Source: Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE)
Singapore is an island-nation deeply plugged into the global food distribution network. With limited resources, Singapore imports more than 90 per cent of our food. This leaves our food security vulnerable to trends and challenges plaguing global food supply, such as disease outbreaks, geopolitical tensions, and climate change.
Food supply disruptions are far from just potential scenarios. In recent years, we have seen supply chain disruptions from various incidents affect global food supply, the latest being Malaysia’s chicken export ban. Being prepared and agile may be the new norm to ensure the resilience of our food supply.
Spreading our risks
To shore up Singapore’s food security, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) has made firm moves over the past years to build a more resilient and adaptable supply chain. Its purpose? To forge a robust and agile food industry that can respond quickly and decisively during periods of disruption.
One of our key food security strategies is to diversify our import sources, so that we reduce our reliance on a single country or region. This allows us to spread our risks and import our food from alternative sources in times of food supply disruptions.
SFA continually explores new overseas sources of safe food, working closely with overseas counterparts on food safety requirements and partnering the industry in food sourcing trips. When hit with the Malaysia chicken export ban recently, our diversified supply network allowed the industry, with the support of SFA, to spring into action quickly. Importers quickly tapped on their extensive network of partnerships with countries such as Australia, Brazil, and Thailand to ramp up import of chilled and frozen chicken.
However, disruptions can happen at any time and from any source. As a small, trade-dependent country with an open economy, Singapore cannot be insulated from all disruptions. It is therefore important that businesses are prepared for uncertainties and build resilience into their supply networks by adopting appropriate preventive and mitigating measures.
For example, as part of business continuity plans, egg importers have diversified their supply sources to now import eggs from Thailand, Poland, and Australia. This has not only reduced our reliance on a single country but made our importers more resilient.
Former Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, Desmond Tan, paid a visit to the NTUC FairPrice’s Fresh Food Distribution Centre on May 26, 2022 - assuring consumers of the sufficient frozen chicken stocks available. Source: MSE
Maintaining the flow and agility in our key food supply nodes
Import sources aside, facilities such as fishery ports and distribution centres also play a vital role in Singapore’s food security due to its role in the nation’s food supply chain. With a large proportion of our food passing through these distribution nodes daily, a breakdown in their operations can have a severe impact on the country’s food supply.
The COVID-19 outbreak at the Jurong Fishery Port (JFP) in 2021 is a good case in point. As Singapore's main seafood wholesale centre, the port handles 30 per cent of our seafood import. In July 2021, however, the discovery of a large cluster of COVID-19 cases at the facility led to its closure. All 684 workers at the port were quarantined while the facility was disinfected and safe management measures, reviewed and tightened.
This unexpected closure meant that seafood supplies that usually came through JFP had to be diverted or turned away.
Working with importers and wholesalers, SFA diverted the seafood supplies to other distribution centres and retail outlets. Some seafood stalls switched to getting their supplies from other sources such as the Senoko Fishery Port, while restaurants and eateries turned to frozen seafood as alternatives. These measures helped to mitigate the impact of the seafood supply disruption during the port’s closure.
Gearing up for future disruptions
The closure of JFP imparted important lessons and reminders for the industry on the importance of being prepared.
To build resilience in our food supply chain through a ready and agile industry, SFA conducted a table-top exercise in April this year, with stakeholders of the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre (PPWC). With 30 per cent of our fruit imports and 50 per cent of our vegetable imports passing through its facility daily, PPWC – like JFP – is an important node in Singapore’s food supply. Operational continuity at the premises is key to ensuring a steady supply of food for Singapore.
In the exercise, representatives from PPWC’s vegetable importers, wholesalers, and associations participated in a walk-through at an alternative distribution site located at 151 Pasir Panjang Road. Simulations of various scenarios that may impact food distribution operations at PPWC were carried out, while protocols such as safe management measures were discussed.
A site walkthrough was conducted to let participants familiarise themselves with the alternative site.
Participants also had the opportunity to raise issues of concern during the exercise. Discussions covered topics such as space required for operations, logistical concerns, infection protocols for staff, manpower replacement, as well as modes of communication from SFA – no stone was left unturned.
Participants discussed various scenarios as a test of their preparedness in the event of any disruption at PPWC.
Thereafter, a ground deployment exercise will be conducted to operationalise and test the deployment of the alternative site, allowing participants to familiarise themselves with the operational conditions at the premises.
The exercises will ensure that stakeholders are well-versed in response protocols, helping them to respond quickly and decisively in times of disruption. This will in turn minimise the impact to our food supply during times of crises and strengthen Singapore’s food supply resilience.
The table-top exercise saw PPWC stakeholders working together to build a more resilient food distribution and supply network.
How consumers can do their part
As SFA and the food industry work closely to strengthen Singapore’s food supply resilience, consumers too can play their part. Consumers can make a difference during times of disruption simply by following our ABC tips:
- Adapt and be flexible with your options.
For example, if fresh or chilled chicken is in short supply, consider replacing it with frozen alternatives and other proteins such as tofu or egg.
- Buy only what you need and do not over-buy.
Surge buying will result in empty shelves in the short term as the supply chain will take time to catch up.
- Choose alternatives such as frozen or processed meat!
By opting for different forms of meat besides chilled ones, your demand enables importers to source from further away and diversify their supplies to avoid being over-reliant on a specific source.
Let us continue to be prepared, agile, and open to alternatives so that we can overcome food disruptions together and emerge stronger!