Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Appetite for local produce growing

Rising demand for eggs, vegetables produced here despite higher prices
By Jessica Lim, Consumer Correspondent, The Straits Times, 25 May 2015

THE go-local food movement here has found more supporters. Demand for vegetables and eggs farmed in Singapore is seeing healthy growth, despite the produce being pricier.

New Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) figures show that 10,848 tonnes of leafy vegetables, such as cai xin and kang kong, consumed here last year were home-grown, up from 9,300 tonnes in 2010.

In terms of proportion, the amount of locally produced leafy greens eaten here last year was 12 per cent of the total vegetable consumption - an increase from the 7 per cent in 2010.

This means the long-term AVA target of raising local production of such vegetables to 10 per cent of consumption has been met.

The appetite for locally farmed eggs has grown too, with about 433 million eaten last year. This was 25 per cent of total egg consumption, up from 22 per cent, or about 340 million eggs, in 2010. The target is 30 per cent.

Currently, there are about 200 food farms in Singapore. Of these, three are hen layer farms, about 50 are leafy vegetable farms and about 130 are fish farms.

There has been a push to help farmers here boost yields so that Singapore is less vulnerable to food import disruptions caused by external issues such as climate change and disease. The country imports 90 per cent of all food consumed here.

A $30 million Food Fund was launched in 2009 to help farmers improve technology and upgrade production capability. A second fund, the $63 million Agriculture Productivity Fund, was announced last year to develop local farms and landscape nurseries.

In January, the AVA set up a task force to promote demand for key food items that have been grown, harvested or reared here.

With the help of government funding, Kok Fah Technology Farm in Sungei Tengah now produces 3,000kg of leafy greens daily, up from 2,000kg in 2010.

Workers used to dump buckets of water over crops and plant seeds by hand. Now, they use automatic sprays. The farm also protects the crops from heavy rain by growing them in greenhouses. Seedlings are grown for 15 days on trays before machines transplant them into land plots.

Kok Fah Technology Farm's owner Wong Kok Fah, 53, who supplies vegetables to supermarkets here, said: "We optimise land use this way, so we can harvest more frequently."

Prices of local greens are estimated to be 15 per cent higher than those of imported vegetables, owing to relatively higher labour costs and rents. Still, demand for local greens has grown.

"Imported vegetables tend to be less fresh as it takes longer to transport them here," Mr Wong said in Mandarin, adding that food scares overseas may also have pushed people to go local.

Chew's Agriculture produces 480,000 eggs each day for Singapore, up from 300,000 in 2010. This came after the farm spent $7 million on larger-capacity chicken coops. It now has 560,000 layer hens at any one time. In 2010, it could house only half of that.

Mr Tan Chee Nam, 67, its general manager of production, said its "designer eggs" boosted demand. The farm sells 23 types of eggs, including low-cholesterol ones and eggs infused with omega-3 fatty acids. "Singaporeans are more health-conscious these days," he added.

The other locally farmed food is fish but the sector has not been doing as well. Last year, only 8 per cent of all fish consumed here - about 4,200 tonnes - came from local sources, well short of the 15 per cent target. In 2010, local fish made up 7 per cent of fish eaten here.

Recurring plankton blooms are likely to blame for the poor showing. A plankton bloom in February and March, for instance, killed about 500 to 600 tonnes of fish at local fish farms in Changi, Lim Chu Kang and Pulau Ubin.

Madam Raja Lathimi, 55, tries to buy local vegetables whenever she can. "I try to eat local as much as possible. We should support our own farmers and it (local produce) also seems safer," said the housewife. "There have been so many food scares lately."

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