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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Helping Neighbours Farm

October 17, 2012

We are a city state, with a tiny agricultural sector.  But we have some agricultural expertise, and where appropriate, we have through AVA shared it with our ASEAN neighbours.

Last month, SPS Dr Maliki was in Laos to attend an ASEAN Meeting. He took the opportunity to visit the Napho Lao-Singapore Fish Hatchery in Vientiane.  The hatchery was set up in 2002 with technical assistance and funding from Singapore. This year is its 10th anniversary.

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Through this project, we helped Laos set up a fish hatchery, enabling them to use appropriate technology and local materials to produce fish fry for local farming. It has boosted the income of the local farmers, while providing much needed animal protein to the local population.

The hatchery has come a long way. Its annual production of fish fry has crossed four million, far surpassing the initial target of one million.

Interestingly, the tilapia fish bred there is synonymous with Singapore.  It has become so popular in Laos that ordering the “Singapore fish” at local restaurants there will get one the tilapia fish!

Although the hatchery is doing well, the farmers have requested for our assistance to improve its operations even further. With MFA’s funding under the Singapore Cooperation Programme, AVA will conduct a training course in modern tilapia culture and post-harvest technology for the Lao-Singapore Food Fish Hatchery in the coming months. The training will include more advanced topics such as good aquaculture practices, fish health management and proper post-harvest handling.

Besides helping to set up the hatchery facilities, AVA officers had over the years also conducted training sessions and demonstrations to the Lao officers and farmers on the various hatchery operations such as fry production, feed preparation and broodstock selection.

While we are not an agricultural nation, we have nevertheless used our expertise and R&D knowledge to help our neighbours boost their agriculture produce. Besides strengthening regional ties, we also get to diversify our food sources to meet our consumption needs.

Indeed, SMS Lee Yi Shyan led a delegation of AVA experts and our businessmen to Myanmar last week.  They met up with the relevant Ministers and other Government officials who have asked Singapore to help raise the productivity of their agricultural sector.  They were particularly keen to have us help them in post-harvest technology and logistics.  They also welcome more purchases from them.  This suits us fine as we are always on the lookout for more opportunities to further increasing food import from Myanmar.  This is win-win.

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Consumer Preference and Our Sources of Vegetables

July 16, 2012

Price is often a major factor that influences consumer behaviour and vegetables are especially price sensitive given its daily consumption. We import most of our vegetables and the sources of import reflect our consumer preference.  There has been significant change in the profile of these sources.

In the past 10 years, China, with its competitively priced vegetables, has expanded its market share of vegetables in Singapore by 8 percentage points, at the expense of traditional sources like Australia and Indonesia. Take Indonesia as an example. China’s rising export has reduced its volume of vegetable export to Singapore from 32,000 tonnes in 2002 to 21,000 tonnes in 2011.

Market Share of top 5 Countries Exporting Vegetables to Singapore

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The drop in vegetable imports from Indonesia is especially drastic for heavier vegetables like potato and sweet potato.

What could have led to the drop in import of potatoes and sweet potatoes from Indonesia?

Pricing is one huge factor.  The difference between Indonesian and Chinese potatoes is about $0.40 to $0.65 per kg.  This price differential is not small.  China now has a market share of 35% (16,540 tonnes) compared to Indonesia’s 9% (4,349 tonnes).

Source: AVA Statistics

Source: AVA Statistics

Meanwhile, our closest neighbour Malaysia remains our largest source of vegetables, with 43% of market share.  Geographical proximity has its advantage, from logistical view point.

There is potential for Indonesia to increase its export to Singapore.  There is an Indonesia-Singapore Agribusiness Working Group and we will see how we can work through it to implement practical initiatives:

  1. Study the cost structure of Indonesian agri-produce to identify bottlenecks in exporting from Indonesia;
  2. Mapping of production sites, logistics routes and facilities for key Indonesian provinces;
  3. Information exchange on the list of vegetable varieties preferred by Singapore consumers and the source of seeds for targeted vegetables to help increase the yield and productivity of produce;
  4. More promotion fairs with supermarket retailers to showcase Indonesian agri-produce.

Ultimately, the beneficiaries are our consumers. Diversified sources mean that they will have a larger basket to choose from. With added competition, prices for some vegetables will come down too.

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We Are What We Eat

January 20, 2012

 

 

In a recent blog post, I highlighted the significant shift in Singaporeans’ consumption pattern, from fresh/chilled fish to frozen fish.  From 2002 to 2010, frozen fish has expanded its market share from 20% to 40%.

The same trend is observed for the other meat items (except beef which has been high on frozen).  Between 2002 and 2010, the market share of the frozen option has shot up:

The consumption trend for chicken is representative:

Total consumption has gone up by 40% from 115,000T to 161,500T. The increase has largely gone to frozen chicken.

In terms of per capita consumption, the figures for 2010 are tabulated below.

Note the pecking order: chicken tops the chart, followed by fish and pork, with beef and mutton several notches down.

From the health view point, this preference for white meat is commendable.

Even more commendable is the consumption for vegetables.  At 96kg (in 2010), vegetables exceeded all the meat items.  As a former Health Minister and a vegetarian, I say: well done, Singaporeans!  Have a healthy year ahead.

 

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Changing Lifestyle, Changing Preference

January 6, 2012

Last month, I attended a Wholesale Fish Market event at the Jurong Fishery Port.  The fish merchants told me that Singaporeans were the second largest consumers of fish, after the Japanese, in Asia, in per capita consumption terms.  However, in the same breath, they lamented that their business has been heading south all these years.

I was confused.  Amidst the loud music, they could not explain to me the discrepancy in the two statements.

I speculated that it had to do with the consumers’ rising preference for frozen fish over chilled fish.  The former does not go through the wholesale fish market.

AVA has confirmed it.  Let me share some of their data.

There are two fishery ports in Singapore: Jurong and Senoko.  At Jurong Fishery Port the amount of fish handled dropped by 24% from 78,524 T in 2001 to 60,027 T in 2010. Over at Senoko, the drop was 32% from 14,019 T to 9,522 T.

This in turn is due to changing consumer preference for frozen versus chilled / live fish.  Our consumption of frozen fish (whole, fillet, cuts/steaks) has doubled from 17,150 T in 2002 to 34,297 T in 2010.

Fig 2 shows the changing market share more starkly.

Within a decade, the market share of chilled/live fish has shrunk from about 80% to 60%.  And the declining trend is likely to continue.

This also explains why wet markets are losing market share to supermarkets.  This reflects modern lifestyles of nuclear families with working couples.

Fishery ports and wet markets have to note this lifestyle change, as they formulate their future business plans.

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No April’s Fool Joke

September 16, 2011

A CCTV report about an illegal syndicate in Zhejiang, which collected used oil in sewers and recycled them as good cooking oil for sale in 14 Chinese provinces read like an April Fool’s joke, but it wasn’t.  It was sickening: the extent of human greed and lack of scruple, at the expense of consumers’ wellbeing, was incredible.  Who knows we may be victims who had eaten in the affected province in China?

Besides housing, MND is also responsible for food security and food safety, through its AVA.  We take this mission seriously.

AVA was put to the test after the recent Fukushima nuclear incident, with radioactive contamination in food produced in that part of Japan.  Prompt and professional handling by AVA colleagues assures Singaporeans that we are not exposed to radioactive particle-contaminated food.

As Singapore imports more than 90% of our food, AVA is regularly tested.  From mad-cow disease, Nipah virus in pigs, bird flu to melamine-tainted food, AVA colleagues know that they can never let their guard down.

And it is not just the high-profile events.  The daily inspections and testing of food for various food-borne hazards such as pesticide residues and harmful organisms are daily routine activities for AVA.

With globalisation of food trade and the increased demand for food as the world population grows, the challenge of ensuring food is safe, besides being abundant, has taken centre stage.

Indeed, the subject of food being healthy, is adding a third dimension.

For example, should we prohibit trans fat?  A short answer is “yes”.  The issue is: are there healthier alternatives? I carry this subject from MOH to MND, an unfinished business which I intend to finish it up while here, in consultation with MOH.

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