That would mean an end to highly intensively-farmed landscapes composed of vast fields that were home to just one crop, and a return to a number of once-traditional husbandry methods. It sounds counter-intuitive, but European researchers are convinced that it could be good value.
They report in the journal Science Advances that they looked at more than 5,000 studies that made more than 40,000 comparisons between what they term diversified and simplified agriculture.
And they found that crop yield in general either kept to the same level or even increased when farmers adopted what they called diversified practices of the kind that sustained subsistence farmers for many centuries.
These include intercropping − different crops side by side − and multiple crops in rotation, strips of flowers to encourage pollinating insects, lower levels of disturbance of the soil and hedges, and forested shelter belts to encourage wildlife alongside farmland.
“Most often, diversification practices resulted in win-win support of services and crop yields”
The payoff? Better ecosystem services such as pollination, the regulation of crop pests by natural enemies, a more efficient turnover of nutrients, higher water quality, and in many cases better storage of carbon in ways that could mitigate climate change.
This, of course, is not how big agribusiness delivers much of the world’s food.
“We grow monoculture on enlarged fields in homogenised landscapes. According to our study, diversification can reverse the negative impacts that we observe in simplified forms of cropping on the environment and on production itself.”
It’s an old argument. Is it better for a farmer to invest all in one vast crop of maize or wheat or soy, regularly nourished by commercial fertilisers, routinely sprayed to suppress pests, moulds and mildews, with the land ploughed and harrowed after harvest for the next crop, and always at risk of frost or flood, locust swarms, drought or blight?
Or would it be better in the long run for the farmer to spread the risk by changing and multiplying the crops, and to rely more on undisturbed soils and local habitats for birds and insects that would demolish some of the pests (and of course take some of the crop)?
Researchers have repeatedly argued that both to contain climate change and to preserve the natural world from which all human nourishment and almost all human wealth ultimately derive, farming practices must change, and so must human appetite. The argument remains: what is the best way to set about change down on the farm itself?
There have already been a large number of studies of this question. There have also been meta-analyses, or studies of collected studies. Dr Tamburini and his colleagues identified 41,946 comparisons embedded in 5,160 original studies. They also found 98 meta-analyses. And they took a fresh look at the whole lot to identify what could be win-win, trade-off and lose-lose outcomes.
They found that diversification is better for biodiversity, pollination, pest control, nutrient cycling, soil fertility and water regulation at least 63% of the time. “Most often, diversification practices resulted in win-win support of services and crop yields,” they report.
“Widespread adoption of diversification practices shows promise to contribute to biodiversity conservation and food security from local to global scales.” − Climate News Network
Rural producers face a wide range of adverse events that expose them to potentially heavy losses. In agriculture, both natural risks – such as droughts, floods, pests, diseases, and fires – and market risks – such as price variation – are frequent. While the modernization of the agricultural sector leads to commodity specialization and the adoption of technologies with higher expected returns, it may also result in a larger production variance, creating more uncertainty and increasing producers’ exposure to risk (See Dercon and Christiaensen, 2011). Modernization has accelerated in Brazil in recent years, raising the importance of risk management instruments.
Brazil has a large potential for improving risk mitigation opportunities for its producers, which will be even more essential in the face of climate change. Improving risk management practices and public policies could accelerate the process of modernization and sustainability in Brazilian agricultural production. Government incentives require a design crafted to meet producers’ needs. In this report, Climate Policy Initiative/Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (CPI/PUC-Rio) researchers analyze the current risk management instruments and public policies and discuss pathways for improving their impact on Brazilian agriculture.
This report discusses the strengths and shortcomings of the main public policies regarding agricultural risk management, highlights the potential for rural insurance growth, and outlines steps for the future. It brings together data from SUSEP, the Ministry of Agriculture (Ministério da Agricultura, Pecuária e Abastecimento – MAPA), the Central Bank of Brazil, and other relevant sources. The empirical analysis aims to provide a better understanding of the current state and recent trends of agricultural risk management in Brazil and to identify how to better tailor public policies.
In Brazil, the modernization of agriculture in the past decades has led to the conversion of pasture to cropland, reducing deforestation pressure associated with the expansion of agricultural land. The continuation of this process requires additional investments in intensification and productivity, particularly in pastureland, so that increases in livestock production do not require area expansion. Simultaneously, the conversion of pastures to cropland significantly alters a business’ risk profile, since crops are more susceptible to climate variations. Livestock farming is generally more resilient in the face of the unforeseen events that often impact rural activities. Specialization of cultures, adoption of new technologies, and sustainable production methods lead to higher expected returns but may cause greater uncertainty in results. Thus, to encourage producers to adopt such practices, their exposure to risk needs to be addressed. That is why the modernization of the agricultural sector enhances the importance of better opportunities for producers to manage their risks.
Market failures in rural insurance have broad consequences leading to underinvestment, less efficient agricultural production, and adverse land use impacts. Producers with inadequate risk management tools often make poor production decisions, such as avoiding crop specialization or the adoption of new technologies that can subsequently increase their exposure to risk. That is, producers will often avoid engaging in activities that have higher expected profits but more uncertainty in returns as a way to self-insure against both natural and price risks. This behavior has negative effects on agricultural productivity and land use, with important consequences for forests and the environment.
In Brazil, rural insurance and other tools for agriculture risk management is scarce and difficult to access in many regions (see Box 1 for an overview of Brazil’s risk management instruments). In 2018, almost 60% of the country’s municipalities had no rural insurance contracts (for crop, livestock, or forest), according to the Superintendence for Private Insurance (Superintendência de Seguros Privados – SUSEP). Moreover, few crops in Brazil are insured, and soy is most frequently covered (32% of crop insurance contracts in SUSEP). Nevertheless, the Brazilian rural insurance market recently experienced significant growth. The rural insurance premium increased from R$88.2 million in 2006 to R$2 billion in 2018, corresponding (adjusted for inflation) to a twelve-fold increase (SUSEP). Life insurance for rural producers makes up 20% percent of all rural insurance premiums, though this type of insurance does not have a direct impact on production choices.
Only a few companies dominate Brazil’ rural insurance market. In the 2019/20 agricultural year, one company represented 52.3% percent of the market and only 14 insurers total were present during that year, according to data from SUSEP. Public policy should provide incentives to reduce market concentration, increase competition among firms, and, consequently, increase the variety of risk management instruments available to rural producers.
The remainder of this report proceeds as follows. Following this Executive Summary, Box 1 gives a brief description of Brazil’s risk management instruments. The main recommendations for improving Brazil,s agricultural risk management policies are highlighted next. Section 1 starts the analysis of risk management instruments in Brazil, exploring the data from SUSEP. Section 2 discusses the four main public policies for Brazilian producers: PSR, PROAGRO, Garantia-Safra, and PGPM. Section 3 describes the Agricultural Climate Risk Zoning (Zoneamento Agrícola de Risco Climático – ZARC). Section 4 presents the Brazilian reinsurance market and the Rural Insurance Stability Fund (FESR). Section 5 reviews the economic literature on how risk management instruments impact agricultural activity and land use in Brazil and other developing countries. Section 6 makes an international comparison of insurance coverage and policies. Finally, Section 7 discusses the pathways ahead and suggestions to improve Brazil’s risk management instruments and public policies.
Coffee is one of the most popular commodities on Earth. It’s grown by nearly 125 million farmers, from Latin America to Africa to Asia. But as man-made climate change warms the atmosphere, the notoriously particular coffee plant is struggling. Places like Colombia, which once had the perfect climate to grow Arabica coffee, are changing. Now, experts estimate the amount of land that can sustain coffee will fall 50 percent by 2050. It’s not just a crisis for consumers but for the millions who have made a livelihood out of growing coffee.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposes weaknesses in the supply chain when countries go into lockdown. Some are small, such as the toilet paper shortages early on, that, while annoying, were eventually resolved. But what happens when the effects of the pandemic reach the food systems of countries highly reliant on food imports and income from abroad, and commerce slows to a halt?
UC Santa Barbara marine conservationist Jacob Eurich and collaborators watched this very situation unfold in the Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) — the island nations scattered in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, from New Zealand to French Polynesia, and including the Marshall Islands to Papua New Guinea. While infection with SARS-CoV-2 has been slow there relative to other parts of the world, the global lockdown can have outsized effects on their food systems.
“One of the key messages from the research is to rely less on global food supply chains,” said Eurich, a co-author on a paper that appears in the journal Food Security. While this study was specific to the PICT region, areas with few domestic alternatives to global supply chains, he noted, are vulnerable to similar threats to food security when shocks to the system occur.
With their remote locations, lack of arable land and economies dependent on tourism and need for food imports, the PICTs have become reliant on movement in and out of the region for much of the food they consume and also for the money to purchase that food.
But even with commerce slowing down, these countries and territories need not suffer food scarcity and malnutrition, the researchers said. The PICTs are home to large networks of coral reefs that host a diverse array of fish and other seafood.
“Coral reefs should operate as biodiverse, living refrigerators for coastal communities, sourcing replenishable, nutritious food,” Eurich said. “Coastal communities can and should be able to depend on traditionally-sourced diets if the resource is healthy.”
In fact, the time is ripe to reconsider the role of local production in the region’s food systems, according to the researchers. For instance, some areas with farmland could benefit by reinvigorating their production of root crops, which would not only decrease reliance on the global supply chain, but also provide healthy alternatives to imported processed foods.
“Bolstering local production and intraregional trade strengthens the food system,” he said. “Consuming more locally produced fresh foods and less non-perishable shelf-stable foods is a step in the right direction.”
Meanwhile, a shortening of the supply chain via strong intraregional trade could strengthen the regional economy while also protecting against food insecurity. Significant local processing and storage challenges must be overcome, according to the paper, and intra-island transport and food distribution strengthened. Particularly in the PICT region, where large scale local fish storage is currently inadequate, it helps to prioritize production of less perishable foods (like root crops) over fish, Eurich said.
It’s not just about pandemic planning. The same principles for resilient food systems in the face of climate change and natural disaster — both of which the PICTs have been facing — could serve as a basis for response to other COVID-19-type scenarios, according to the researchers.
“Climate change and natural disasters can be considered shocks to the system,” Eurich said. “The pandemic, while there was time to prepare, was still a shock. We have learned that enhancing storage, production and distribution through coordination and increasing regional transparency are keys of a resilient supply chain when these unexpected changes occur.”
Research on this paper was conducted also by Penny Farrell (lead author), Anne Marie Thow, Helen Trevena and Georgina Mulcahy at The University of Sydney; Jillian Tuto Wate at Worldfish; Nichol Nonga, Penina Vatucawaqa and Itziar Gonzalez at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); Tom Brewer, Michael K. Sharp, Anna Farmery, Hampus Eriksson and Neil L. Andrew at the University of Wollongong; and Erica Reeve at Deakin University.
This briefing note provides practical information on the planning and implementation of ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) approaches in the agriculture sector as part of national adaptation planning processes. It presents entry points for mainstreaming EbA throughout the four elements of the National Adaptation Plans (NAP) formulation process, as defined by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Least Developed Countries Group.
The brief describes how planning and implementing EbA in the agriculture sectors as part of the NAPs process can make key linkages between increasing resilience of sustainable agricultural livelihoods and ecosystem management and conservation. This brief is intended for national planners and decision-makers working on climate change adaptation and NAP formulation and implementation, including UNFCCC focal points, national designated authorities of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), and climate financing agencies, donor agencies, and other development practitioners.
The key messages of this brief are:
Climate change poses medium- to long-term risks to both ecosystems and ecosystem-dependent livelihoods, and calls for the adoption of adaptation actions that can address both aspects in an integrated manner;
One of the ways that EbA can contribute to increasing resilience of agricultural livelihoods and ensuring food security in a more coherent way is by integrating related practices throughout the NAP process;
EbA can be part of NAP planning objectives as well as a means for implementation;
Integrating EbA in NAPs, focusing on agriculture sectors, should build on and use approaches that are already tested in the fields of climate-smart agriculture, agroecology, sustainable natural resource management, […];
The barriers to mainstreaming EbA into NAPs include lack of evidence-based knowledge on EbA, including evidence-based on robust monitoring system, […];
These barriers can be addressed by improving cross-sectoral coordination; strengthening capacities and knowledge on the social and economic benefits and trade-offs of EbA, […].
That is why Ribena is investing £500,000 in a five-year project with the James Hutton Institute to develop a new variety of blackcurrant that doesn’t need a cold winter to deliver good summer fruits.
“We are seeing big shifts in our climate. We’ve had an incredibly mild winter, followed by the sunniest May ever, and the driest May in 124 years,” Ribena’s blackcurrant agronomist Harriet Prosser said. “That puts us in a really difficult position.”
Standard blackcurrant varieties need around 2,000 “cold hours” – when the temperature drops below 7C – before they start to bud in the Spring, Ms Prosser explained. The cold spell reduces the risk of frost damage to new buds, and ensures blackcurrant shrubs flower at the right point in the season for peak pollination.
But this year, blackcurrant growers in the UK’s South East saw just 1,300 “cold hours”, raising the risk of lower yields and an unevenly ripened crop.
Ribena is trying to manage Britain’s unpredictable weather patterns by sourcing blackcurrants from across the country, from Kent to Scotland. Its growers also use a range of varieties, including some better adapted to warmer climates.
But each year growing a bumper crop of blackcurrants in Britain becomes more of a challenge. This year Ribena resorted to using a specially developed nutrient-rich “energy drink” on the plants to encourage fruiting, Ms Prosser said.
Finding a blackcurrant that thrives in Britain’s warming winter conditions is crucial to the sector’s long-term prospects. “I think we would always work to keep British blackcurrants going,” Ms Prosser said. “It would get harder without this breeding programme.”
Acclimatise are delighted to announce the establishment of a new partnership with Forum for the Future as co-delivery partners on the Cotton 2040 initiative.
To survive in an increasingly
climate-disrupted world, the cotton system requires significant, radical change
which can only be achieved by a systemic, collaborative approach involving
actors across the supply chain.
Cotton represents about 25% of
all fibre used in the textile sector globally and supports the livelihoods of
around 350 million people. The industry is facing increasing climate change
pressures include changing rainfall patterns, availability of water, rising
temperatures and competition for land for food and fuel.. Increasing the amount
of sustainably grown cotton is key to reducing cotton’s impact and
adapting to the negative impacts of the climate crisis; but while progress is
being made, uptake and production is limited, preventing sustainable
cotton from mainstreaming.
See a recently published blog by Forum for the Future’s Associate Director, Charlene Collison, on why we need to transform commodity value chains in light of the current pandemic and the on-going climate change threat.
About Cotton 2040
Facilitated by Forum for the Future and supported by Laudes Foundation, Acclimatise and Anthesis, Cotton 2040 aims to accelerate progress and maximise the impact of existing sustainability initiatives across the global cotton industry, by bringing together leading international brands and retailers, sustainable cotton standards, existing industry initiatives and other stakeholders across the value chain.
Since 2016, Cotton 2040 has been engaging the industry to understand and align around potential future risks and opportunities for sustainable cotton. The initiative’s progress to date includes building the CottonUP Guide to sourcing sustainable cotton, creating the first platform providing comprehensive information on sourcing cotton across multiple sustainable standards. Forum for the Future have also been carrying out foundational work with sustainable cotton standards, programmes and codes on pathways towards greater alignment in traceability and impact reporting (the latest phase of this work has been carried out in collaboration with Project Delta).
Cotton 2040’s progress has been
guided by a steering group that included sustainable cotton standards,
programmes and codes (organic, represented by Textile Exchange; The Better
Cotton Initiative (BCI); CottonConnect; Cotton Made in Africa (CMiA); Fairtrade;
MyBMP (Cotton Australia); and the Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA). Brand and
retail partners have included M&S, Target, Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail
Ltd. and Burberry, among others, alongside industry partners such as IDH, ICAC
Over the next three years
(2020-2022), Cotton 2040 and its partners will deliver a set of three
interconnected workstreams with the biggest potential to drive a systemic
shift to mainstream sustainable cotton through collaborative efforts.
Acclimatise will co-partner the
delivery of the first of three workstreams planned for Cotton 2040. This first
workstream is related to planning for climate adaptation. The three workstreams
Planning for climate adaptation: Creating sector-wide collaborative action to understand and adapt to the changing climate. Working with cotton producers, brands and retailers and industry initiatives, we will develop a common understanding across the cotton system as to how climate change is likely to impact key stakeholders and regions, and agree on a shared set of priorities for action across the cotton sector.
Sourcing sustainable cotton: Driving the uptake of sustainable cotton with brands and retailers, building on the success of the CottonUP guide launched in 2018.
Developing sustainable business models: Supporting a widespread shift towards alternative business models which ensure fairer distribution of value and risk between stakeholders, and enable the regeneration of land and resources.
How to get involved?
Each partner involved in Cotton
2040 has joined in recognition that no one organisation or company can solve
the sector’s challenges alone. But we need many more to join – and more funding
to make the impact that is needed.
We are now inviting expressions
of interest and commitment from organisations wishing to contribute to one or
more of these workstreams in 2020 and beyond.
Those wishing to find out more can contact Charlene
Collison, Associate Director – Sustainable Value Chains & Livelihoods at
Forum for the Future on firstname.lastname@example.org
Small businesses operating in the Caribbean are faced with constant challenges.
First, the challenges when operating from an island: you are in a remote and isolated location with limited natural resources; costs of production are high; transport costs are high; there are no economies of scale; and your domestic markets are quite small.
Second, trading policies are unfavorable to local producers. There is a high level of dependence on imported inputs (including fuel); a lack of diversity in the goods exported and in trading partners; and a rapid depreciation rate of some Caribbean currencies (such as the Jamaican dollar), which increases operational costs and reduces business competitiveness, both locally and internationally.
Third, access to finance – including finance for innovation and for relief – is very challenging. High interest rates, lack of collateral, and the burden of government (in terms of tax rates and bureaucratic inefficiency) are highly problematic.
Agriculture in the Caribbean has also been fundamentally shaped by the colonial legacy of plantation economies. There is a tendency in favor of export-oriented production, and the best arable lands have – and continue to be- allocated to major export crops such as sugar cane and bananas in large scale operations. This leaves only marginal – and hilly – areas for small-scale domestic production. These areas are generally under-utilized, many times due to farmers lacking the investment capital to clear and develop more land at their disposal, or to update their equipment and practices to increase land use efficiency.
And this is just the top of the iceberg.
Climate change, a threat multiplier
Add to this reality climate change: A threat multiplier capable of generating new and amplified perils to a group of actors that are already in relentless struggle for survival. Analysis of observed meteorological records show a warming and drying trend across the entire region as well as an increase in tropical storms (especially for hurricanes category 4 and 5). In the future, the Caribbean region is expected to experience further erratic rainfall, higher temperatures, stronger droughts and greater climate variability.
Multiple effects on agricultural systems emerge from these changing conditions. In particular, changes in temperature and in rainfall patterns and diversion from favorable agro-climatic conditions can hinder farming productivity, lowering yields and the quality of the produce. Increase intensity of hurricanes and tropical storms can increase the incidence of coastal and riverine flooding and expose assets to high wind speeds. These hazards can generate damages to infrastructure and equipment, making it difficult to undertake farm operations and reach markets; and it can also impact on communities and labour force.
But it is not just farmers that are exposed to the challenges generated by these changing conditions. When we take a whole value chain approach, we can see that climate change generates differentiated risks along all tiers of a value chain, depending on the resources and activities needed to carry value chain operations. To illustrate this point, Figure 1 below shows the different actors, resources and activities along the cassava value chain in Jamaica and some of the key associated climate hazards that each tier is exposed to.
Strategically relate to better adapt
New forms of innovation aligned with the socio-economic and climate realities of the Caribbean are therefore needed. It is herein that a relational approach to climate adaptation can be most beneficial.
As a form of soft innovation, relationship building and strengthening can help actors in agri-business reach critical resources – such as finance and information – helping to increase their adaptive capacity. My research also finds that business relations affect actors’ ability to share or transfer climate risks, making businesses more or less susceptible to adaptation actions taken by others and granting businesses greater or lower flexibility when responding to climate hazards. These dynamics can alter businesses’ perceptions and attitudes towards climate risks and their adaptive responses. In addition, effective relationship management can increase value chain flexibility, visibility and agility, strengthening the overall resilience of agricultural value chains and their capacity to withstand and respond to external shocks, including climate hazards.
When thinking about barriers to climate adaptation, a key challenge that SMEs face is their ability to engage in and benefit from open innovation processes. Due to their size and financial capabilities -which restrict resource allocation for in-house R&D- SMEs are more reliant on open innovation processes than larger firms, and also perform it more intensively. However, SMEs ability to engage in open innovation processes is not only reliant on SMEs internal organisational learning capabilities: It also depends on their capacity to build collaborative relationships with counterparts in order to unlock access to new inflows of knowledge, and on the overall levels of inter-organizational knowledge and innovation openness of the broader business network.
What is the role of government in promoting relational adaptation?
Governments can formulate adaptation strategies focused on stimulating and incentivizing relational innovation, i.e. innovation that occurs through the establishment of new relationships or the re-structuring of existing ones. They can promote the development of cooperatives, business associations and industry clusters, as these networks facilitate information flows between agribusiness and support the dissemination of adaptation best practices. In order to help reduce the current R&D investment gap, strategies can also promote the development of linkages between universities and value chain actors. If done effectively, these network developments can help to reduce the burden on government extension services, as actors can then access information and training through others.
Moreover, business networks improve collaboration, information sharing and joint problem solving. They also help developing shared values and beliefs among businesses, and promote the creation of a shared risk management culture, which are thought to increase value chain climate resilience. There is therefore scope for governments to provide support and allocate resources to the formation, expansion and maintenance of business associations and industry clusters, as they can directly enhance the capacities of businesses to respond to climate risks.
Government and development agencies lacking the resources to promote harder (i.e. more technologically driven) forms of adaptation, may see the promotion of relational innovation as an interesting avenue to promote adaptation. As a form of soft adaptation, supporting relationship building could complement existing adaptation strategies in agriculture whilst easing the burden of government activities.
An enabling environment that promotes adaptation through relational innovations grants greater agency and responsibility to value chain actors. In other words, governments can help framing the conditions for the development of a network structure that facilitates exchange and interaction, but that relies on actor’s abilities to develop and manage relationships effectively. Thus, whilst businesses can directly seek to increase their adaptive capacity by building strategic relationships, governments and development agencies can also play a role in facilitating the development of an enabling environment for relationship building.
This article is based on the research studies carried by Laura Canevari at King’s College London. Free access to peer reviewed publications available below.
Canevari-Luzardo, L. (2019). Climate change adaptation in the private sector: application of a relational view of the firm. Climate and Development. doi:10.1080/17565529.2019.1613214[
Canevari-Luzardo, L., Berkhout, F., & Pelling, M. (2019). A relational view of climate adaptation in the private sector: How do value chain interactions shape business perceptions of climate risk and adaptive behaviour? Business Strategy and the Environment. doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/bse.2375
Canevari-Luzardo, L. M. (2019). Value chain climate resilience and adaptive capacity in micro, small and medium agribusiness in Jamaica: a network approach. Regional Environmental Change. doi:10.1007/s10113-019-01561-0
A new World Bank study shows that reduced rainfall in developing countries has caused around 9% of cropland expansion and deforestation over the last two decades. The study looked at the land cover and rainfall data from 171 countries over the 23 years from 1992-2015, to see what impact rainfall anomalies (increases or decreases from the average) had on cropland expansion in subsequent years.
It’s well established that periods of drought damage crops and reduce yields for farmers around the world. However, until now little was known about the consequences of such pressures on cropland expansion. The researchers found that in developing counties, cropland expanded for up to five years following a drier-than-normal year. They did not find the same effect for increased rainfall.
The findings demonstrate the close connection between climate adaptation measures and climate change mitigation. The researchers found that regions where water infrastructure, such as irrigation, was present did not show similar cropland expansion. Adaptation measures such as improved farming practices, irrigation infrastructure or drought resistant crops, may therefore reduce the pressure on smallholder farmers to replace forested land with cropland.
These impacts will become more acute in the future as climate change is expected to reduce water availability and increase the frequency and intensity of drought events in many developing countries.
Singapore turned to its urban farms to accelerate local food production as the coronavirus pandemic continued to disrupt global supply chains. The municipal government published plans to turn car park rooftops in public housing estates into urban farms and is looking for other areas to grow food within the city.
With a population of five and a half million and a landmass of just 715 square kilometres, the tiny republic of Singapore is forced to import most of its food, meeting just 10 percent of its requirements from local production. The country imports most of its fresh vegetables and fruits from neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, and from further afield from countries like Australia, New Zealand, Israel and Chile.
However, restrictions on population movement because of the coronavirus outbreak have severely disrupted farming and food supply chains, raising concern of widespread shortages and price increases. “The current COVID-19 situation underscores the importance of local food production, as part of Singapore’s strategies to ensure food security,” authorities said in a statement. “Local food production mitigates our reliance on imports and provides buffer in the event of food supply disruptions.”
Lessons for climate change response
Widespread disruption of agricultural supply chains is something that many cities have been preparing for in preparation for climate change. Extreme weather events, and slow onset
climatic shifts disrupt agriculture at every stage of the value chain and can lead to the sort of supply restrictions and price rises that cities are facing due to COVID-19.
Spikes in demand from panic buying has put further pressure on supplies and forced the government to look at ways to overcome the shortage of land. Only 1% of the country’s territory is devoted to agriculture and production costs are higher than the rest of Southeast Asia.
In response, the government has provided a US$ 21 million grant to support production of eggs, leafy vegetables, and fish. They have also begun to identify alternative spaces for urban farming, such as industrial areas and vacant sites. As part of that project, The Singapore food agency will launch a tender for rooftop farms on public housing car parks for urban farming.
This movement builds on existing projects such as the Sky Greens project, which uses vast, glass towers that rotate to capture sunlight. These multi-layered vegetable towers take around eight hours to complete a full circle absorbing sunlight and being watered when it reaches the bottom of its cycle.
Singapore has fostered many such innovative urban farming projects over the past several decades, however few have managed to deliver food supplies at scale. However, with renewed attention on local food production, perhaps the urban farming revolution will now begin to bear fruit.