Updated: Oct 2, 2020
Food Security in a Warming World by See Toh Ee Kin
Photo credit: See Toh Ee Kin
Imagine a world without food, where peaches, coffee, or corn no longer exist. Growing up in Singapore where food is thankfully plentiful, this is almost unfathomable. All I needed to care about was whether I had enough money to buy the food that seemed to magically appear in the supermarket. Food production was not even on my radar. This all changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Panic buying ensued, and shelves went empty. Of course, public fears did not come to pass – despite border control measures, there remained a steady supply of food. However, the very sight of empty shelves opened the eyes of many to the importance of food security. That was my first time hearing of measures such as our national stockpile of food and diversification of food sources.
Many people view the COVID-19 pandemic as a black swan event. However, a much larger crisis looms ahead, that of climate change. Most of us will live to feel its effects.
How will climate change affect food security? Among other effects, it will result in increased temperatures, drought, and flooding. This is concerning because our major staples are all affected by drought and temperature. Rice production could decrease by 13%. This means that there may not be enough food to feed our growing population, and some food may no longer be commercially viable.
So what can we do to address this issue? Before anything else, we must raise awareness about the severity of this issue. The concept of food production is foreign to many urban youths like me. We need to bring the “farms” to them.
Rice does not grow in burlap sacks, vegetables do not sprout in plastic bags and meat does not grow in cling-wrapped Styrofoam containers.
We must raise exposure to agriculture in our communities. This might be achieved via more community garden plots in open spaces and hydroponics in schools and rooftops. That way, everyone can see crops being grown. Schools could also arrange learning journeys to commercial farms.
Besides raising awareness, community gardens allow youths to learn by doing, complementing formal education. Learning about food security in the classroom may not really make the issue relatable. In secondary school, I volunteered at my school’s garden. I distinctly recall coming back after a scorching weekend to find our roselle fruits had dried up before they matured. I learned just how susceptible to the weather our plants were. Youths can also take direct action to meet some of their own nutritional needs. In the Philippines, scouts have been taking part in urban farming amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The programme aims to further protect food security in these turbulent times.
While COVID 19 will continue to disrupt the economy, it does not spell the end of development in the agri-food industry. Businesses and organisations from many sectors have been working together to tackle the pandemic. A continuation of this multi-disciplinary approach to food security can lead to more economically feasible, resilient and sustainable methods. One such method is the use of rewetted peatlands, which has received considerable support in Europe. Evidence suggests that growing on peatlands can produce economically viable products while maintaining near-neutral greenhouse gas emissions as compared to the environmental damage caused by current uses of peatlands. If successful, this concept could improve the livelihoods of and, food security for people in countries such as Indonesia, while minimising environmental impact. This is important. After all, the issues we face do not exist in a vacuum, the solutions should be holistic.
On that note, we should strive for all levels of society to be involved in the quest for food security. Community-driven solutions will be best suited in engaging and involving as many people as possible. Moreover, work done at the grassroots can best identify the challenges faced by the community and adopt sustainable solutions suited to the context and local climate. Businesses are important too, as they can drive innovation and economically viable solutions. Of course, work done at the national and international levels is also important. As we have seen, solutions often involve multiple levels of society working together for the common good.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated to many the importance of food security. We must not let the lessons gained from this crisis go to waste. We need to tackle food security and climate change with the same urgency as we have COVID-19. After all, climate change is a global existential crisis. We must keep raising awareness of the issue and enable every individual and entity to play their part. Together, we can make a difference.
About the Author
See Toh Ee Kin is a Rover Scout and an Assistant Venture Scout Leader in the Singapore Scout Association. He has a keen interest in the environment and has participated in a variety of events from gardening in school to citizen science surveys and public outreach events. He is currently an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore under the Bachelor of Environmental Studies programme.