Continue the Tradition; Build the Future

October 1, 2015

ContinueTheTradition_header

I’ve just started work at MND.

Boon Wan has done an excellent job in achieving a soft landing for the housing market. But the job is not done. I will continue the work, and I hope Singaporeans will give me suggestions and feedback so we can be even better.

Housing, in particular HDB homes, will always be close to the hearts of Singaporeans.  Even as we address immediate needs, we will be confronted with new demands and challenges.  Providing quality and affordable homes remain a key priority. Improving our HDB towns built in the 70s and 80s to meet changing needs will also be my focus, so that Singapore remains an endearing home for everyone, always.

MND is not just about housing. It also touches on many aspects of Singaporeans lives – be it food, animals, construction, conservation, green spaces or physical landscape.

One thing that MND has always done is to work closely with its stakeholders. That’s something I’ve done regularly in MCCY, and it’s certainly a practice I’d like to continue at MND.

JurongLakeGardensExhibitI had a first-hand experience of how much we can achieve together as a community in July this year, when the Singapore Botanic Gardens was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The successful inscription was the result of the collective efforts of experts and community groups who gave their suggestions and support.

Another exciting MND project is the Jurong Lake District. We have been gathering ideas and feedback extensively to shape the area into a vibrant live-work-play destination.

We will continue to talk to many more Singaporeans in this and other projects.

In the immediate term, my priority is to see through the successful implementation of the 2-Room Flexi scheme and recent policy changes (which will take effect for the November BTO exercise). Work has also started on the Fresh Start Housing Scheme. We will announce the details in due course so that families with young children in rental flats can become home owners again.

I will continue the tradition of listening, consulting and engaging all stakeholders. And I will also keep this blog alive as a way to reach out to everyone.

I invite you to join me on this journey – to make our city more liveable, to make our homes more endearing, and to make our future more vibrant and secure.

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5th in food security: Not Bad

September 30, 2014

Food security remains a global challenge.  How countries fare are regularly tracked.  For example, the Economist Intelligence Unit publishes its annual Global Food Security Index (GFSI) covering 109 countries around the world. GFSI measures three key areas: i) Availability, ii) Affordability and iii) Quality and Safety of food.

Singapore’s challenges are especially acute as we are inevitably highly reliant on food imports. But challenges can be addressed with sound policies and practical strategies. Despite our handicap, we can still ensure that food is available, safe, nutritious and affordable for all.

We have been tracking our progress on the GFSI score.  Last year, Singapore ranked 16th.  This year, we came up 5th.

Moving up 11 notches on the GFSI for a tiny city state without much agricultural land is no mean feat.

Although we import over 90% of our food, we support some local production to play a useful complementary role. Last month, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) launched a $63 million Agriculture Productivity Fund to help our local farmers boost yields and raise productivity.  Our ambition is for our local farms to, over time, transform into a high tech and progressive one.

The improvement in our GFSI ranking was mostly due to (a) stability in our local production, (b) sufficiency of supply, and (c) having a nutrition plan in place.

We have also scored well in the new indicator for food loss. Our programmes and R&D projects to reduce food losses in the early stages of food production, which include post-harvest handling techniques, cold chain management, and conversion of food manufacturing waste, have been notable.  Meanwhile, we must press on with reducing general food wastage among consumers.

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An OIE Recognition of Excellence

July 1, 2014

The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) has endorsed VPHC as Southeast Asia’s first OIE Collaborating Centre for Food Safety, serving the Asia and Oceania region.

Picture1bVPHC (Veterinary Public Health Centre) is the cornerstone of AVA’s integrated food safety programme. VPHC laboratories conduct stringent food safety tests on food products, and comprise a multi-disciplinary team of professionals and scientists who provide a comprehensive range of analytical services.

From its humble beginnings in the 1970s as a basic meat testing laboratory, VPHC has over the years grown to be a state-of-the-art facility in Lim Chu Kang. The OIE recognition is an important milestone.

Food safety is of paramount importance to our people. With food imports coming in from countries all over the world, cross-border checks are critical to ensuring that our food supply is safe. AVA and VPHC play a crucial role.

With the support of VPHC as an OIE Collaborating Centre, AVA will be in a better position to keep abreast of emerging challenges in food safety, and new developments in international standards and regulations. AVA will also have the opportunity to extend its technical expertise, comprehensive laboratory testing services and training programmes to the region. This will enhance the overall food safety in the region, a source of many of our food imports.

The OIE recognition comes in time of VPHC’s 10th anniversary in Lim Chu Kang this year.

Congratulations, AVA and VPHC!

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To the Farmers’ Market

April 5, 2014

to the farmers market

We now have hundreds of community gardens, where volunteers bond and take part in a meaningful hobby. I told AVA that we should help those community gardens which want to increase the yield or “professionalise” their hobby through injecting our expertise. They have proceeded to do so in Woodlands, helping the volunteers upgrade their community gardens into “model vegetable gardens”.

Photo 1

Much to the delight of the volunteers, these vegetable gardens have been showing astonishing results. Every 4 to 6 weeks, there is so much harvest that the residents have been able to share them with needy families.

Tomorrow, they will take it one step further. They will conduct a Community Farmers Market in Woodlands and will have some 250 kg of the harvest to sell, with proceeds going to Man Fut Tong Nursing Home.

Photo 2This market will bring together the community gardeners in my GRC, to market their produce for a charitable cause.

Our little ones do not want to be left out, in this urban farming movement. Tiny gardeners from my PCF at Woodlands have also been growing their own vegetables. They too will hawk their harvests tomorrow.

We have successfully extended community gardening to the young to nurture a new generation of “green thumbs”. Over the last two months, the children have been tending to their own “Kinder-Garden”.

With the help from AVA officers, our enthusiastic pre-schoolers learn how to sow seeds in plastic cups, watch them grow into seedlings, before putting them out for outdoor planting. This has allowed our teachers to conduct outdoor lessons on seedling transplant, fertilising, weeding and harvesting. Their proud harvests will include Xiao Bai Cai, Nai Bai, Kang Kong and Bayam.

Come join us at the Farmers’ Market tomorrow!

Photo 3

 

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Reducing Food Waste

July 10, 2013

Reducing Food Waste

Recent media reports of rapidly rising food waste in Singapore deserve attention and practical action. With millions around the world starving or malnourished, it is not right that good food is wasted in Singapore.

AVA is doing its part. It has developed an innovative product under its R&D initiative: a vegetarian version of the popular snack, meat floss.

Okara, a Japanese word for soybean pulp, is a by-product from soy milk production. At least 30 tonnes of Okara is generated in Singapore every day. Currently, it is disposed off as food waste at a cost to the companies, or for use as an animal feed.

OkaraBut there is now a new option – Okara floss as food. And it is a 100% vegetarian product. This is AVA’s latest 3R initiative to Reduce, Recycle and Recover for food resilience.

I have sampled the Okara floss : it is tasty! We invite interested companies to take this innovation to the market, so that more people can get to enjoy it.

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More Food from Myanmar

March 11, 2013

More Food from Myanmar

Just now in Parliament, SPS Dr Maliki spoke about how AVA works closely with our food industry to diversify our food sources. We conduct regular overseas trade missions to potential sources such as Vietnam and Myanmar, and further away such as South America.

We are particularly hopeful of Myanmar becoming a good food source for us. It is nearby and a fertile country. It used to be a major rice exporter in the past.

With this in mind, SMS Lee Yi Shyan led a business delegation to Myanmar last year. One possible item is vegetables. Already, some traders in the delegation are keen to bring in chillies, to test our local market’s reception. AVA will also facilitate partnerships between Singaporean farmers and Myanmar supply chain partners.

Another potential item is seafood. The Myanmar seafood sector is well developed, and if prices are competitive, our traders will be keen. Though I do not promote the eating of salted tuna fish (from health view point), I certainly recall growing up eating salted fish from Myanmar, then called Burma! One of my favourites then was curry salted tuna fish, with long beans.

While there are some concerns about inadequate/lack of suitable infrastructure, Myanmar holds a lot of promise. Through more exchanges and transfer of technical expertise from AVA, I believe Myanmar farmers will, over time, be able to increase their food exports to Singapore. Our traders can also help support technology transfers to achieve win-win outcomes.

Expect to see more Myanmar vegetables and seafood on our dining tables.

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Buy SG Fish Next Time

December 17, 2012

Singaporeans eat a lot of fish. How much is a lot?

Last year, each Singaporean ate, on average, 21 kg of fish. Together, we imported 150,000 tonnes of fish, the equivalent in weight of 3,000 blue whales put together!

That is a lot of fish, though I did not contribute any, being a vegetarian.

To reduce our dependence on fish imports, AVA actively helps our local fish farms raise their productivity through R&D. Much of this scientific test-bedding work is done at AVA’s Marine Aquaculture Centre (MAC) in St John’s Island.

MAC visit

I paid the MAC a visit recently.

This is not your normal office. Nobody lives in St John’s Island, so our staff members have to commute to St John’s Island daily by ferry. The ride takes about half an hour from Marina South Pier.

They are a passionate bunch. They love their work. I spoke to a young scientist currently pursuing his postgraduate studies on fish genetics who uses advanced molecular technology to produce fast growing and disease-resistant Asian seabass. Advances in the study of the human genome have benefited the other branches of biology.

The objective is to get the fish to reproduce and grow faster. First, our MAC scientists have identified fast growing, good quality fish of several locally popular species, such as the Asian Seabass, Pompano and Tilapia.

Second, the challenge is to get them to spawn. This is about getting the right environmental conditions for the fishes. Fortunately, fishes are not as fussy as Jia Jia and Kai Kai.

Third, when the babies (fish larvae) are born, we give them a leg up, an additional boost of special diet to ensure healthy growth.

Finally, the frys are transferred to commercial fish farms for scaling up as adult fish.

These R&D efforts have been valuable. They have helped boost our local fish production steadily, from 4% of total consumption in 2009 to 8% currently.

Lifecycle of an Asian SeabassLifecycle of an Asian Seabass

Our fish farms have come together to brand their locally farmed fish as “SG Fish”. They are labelled as such in the supermarket.

As AVA continues to work closely with the industry to bolster our fish supply, you can help support our local farms by buying “SG Fish” the next time you do your marketing.

Our target is to raise the market share of SG Fish to 15%, from today’s 8%. This should not be too difficult. With your help, of course!

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