Learning From China’s Growing Food Consumption Trend

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Professor Xu Zhi Hong Speaking at the NUS Faculty of Science on August 20, 2015

On August 20, 2015, Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory (TLL), a non-profit philanthropic organisation which is funded by Temasek Trust and aims to improve lives through innovative solutions, in collaboration with the National University of Singapore (NUS) and agribusiness company Wilmar International hosted Professor Xu Zhi Hong, one of China’s most eminent scientists, at the Wilmar Distinguished Lecture in Agriculture and Food. The event, which was held at NUS, brought together over 240 students, researchers, scientists and industry luminaries who gathered to hear Prof Xu’s insights on topics ranging from the impact science and technology have on agriculture production and yield, to China’s challenges in sustaining agriculture outputs and feeding its own population.

China, the world’s largest producer and consumer of rice in the global economy, accounts for 30% of total world production and consumption. As the most populous country in the world, how will China sustain agriculture output to meet the needs of its growing population? This was one of the issues addressed by Prof Xu, along with the lack of arable land, rising costs of production, shifts in dietary preferences and climate change. He highlighted that agricultural R&D is necessary to ensure sustainable outputs for China’s huge population and genetically modified crops could also help alleviate the current situation. One interesting case study Prof Xu put forward was the cultivation of alternative crops such as potatoes, which don’t require as much water and have very good nutritional value. As Singapore looks at other ways to feed its own population, and especially given it currently imports up to 90% of its food supply, these insights certainly help shed light on alternative and more sustainable solutions.

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About Singapore’s food challenges

Singapore has seen 100 per cent urbanisation since 1955. Coupled with the country’s problem of land scarcity, Singapore illustrates the dynamics of competing land use. According to statistics published by the Agri- Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore, Singapore has a total farming area of only 738 hectares and this constitutes just about one per cent of the total land area. This tiny agricultural land area produces less than ten per cent of the nation’s own food, forcing Singapore to be highly dependent on food imports.

Could urban agriculture be a solution?

Urban agriculture is especially relevant in Singapore’s context as buildings largely mark the landscape. The Housing Development Board reported that about 80 per cent of Singapore’s population lives in high-rise public housing apartments. This means there is a total rooftop area of approximately 1,000 hectares, which could be used to grow crops. In Japan for instance, the Pasona Group office building, located in Tokyo, Japan, allow employees to grow and harvest their own food at work. The building has a facade with vertical gardens filled with seasonal plants, as well as an internal green area of nearly 4,000 square meters, with more than 200 species of fruit trees, rice and vegetables. The best part is that most of the produce goes straight to the company cafeteria, allowing workers to consume fresh fruits and vegetables, harvested right in their workplace. To find out more please click here

Did you know…

On a global scale, almost as much as half of the food produced in the world – equivalent to two billion tonnes – ends up as waste every year. According to recent reports, up to half of the food that is bought in first world countries is thrown away by consumers.