Food Independence for Singapore

Recently the Singapore Government announced a new strategy, “30 by 30” to raise Singapore’s food self-production level from current 10 percent to 30 percent of total needs by 2030.

Singapore is highly dependent on food import. Singapore, according to the AVA (Agricultural and Veterinary Authority), imports foods from 170 countries, ensuring a problem with one country would not affect food supplies to Singapore.  However, the exporting countries may also experience forces external to the countries, such as climate change, COVID-19, and other factors that are beyond the control of both Singapore and exporting countries.

The biggest problem is probably to produce protein. Singapore has no space to rear cows, pigs or broiler chickens. Even though Singapore is surrounded by sea, there is a limited area that are suitable for fish farming, either due to water quality or to prevent intrusion to sea lanes. Fresh-water fish farming in reservoirs may be possible, but it requires careful control as the water in reservoir are eventually used for drinking .

Rather than limited by those constraints, Singapore should look to technology and also the future trend.

Recently Tip Top Curry Puff introduced ‘Impossible Rendang Puff‘ with meat-substitute from Impossible Food. It is an interesting mix, a traditional pastry mixed with latest meat-substitute. 

Impossible Meat, together with Beyond Meat, have been the forerunner in meat-substitute industry.  The ‘meat’ is based on plant (which would appeal vegans) and do not require rearing animals which may appeal environment-conscious consumers who are worried about environment impact of rearing animals for food.

However, rather than producing meat-substitute, Singapore should consider producing protein using technologies such as Precision Fermentation (PF) and Cultured Meat (CM).  These technologies promise abundant production of protein with low cost. 

Precision Fermentation (PF) is a process that enables the programming of micro-organism to produce almost any complex organic molecule. It is converting the source ingredients using microorganism such as yeast or bacteria to produce complex molecule such as protein. The ‘meat’ is technically not a meat because the protein does not come from animals.

The ‘meat’ from the Cultured Meat (CM) process, on the other hand, can be argued is a meat. Using tissue engineering, the technology multiples the source tissues to become the meat that we know of.  The ‘source tissues’ can be taken by scratching the skin from any parts of the animal.  There is no need to slaughter the animals; only some cells are needed.

Both technologies promised to produce protein with high quantity and (if we reached the critical mass) lower cost as compared protein from animals. Nutrition, flavor, texture and other properties of the ‘meat’ can also be controlled or even tailored differently according to different requirements or consumer preferences. 

Cultured Meat and Precision Fermentation does not require any large land to produce the meat. The issue surrounding rearing animals, (especially cows), such as water consumption, food consumption and green house impacts are practically eliminated. The ‘meat’ would be produced in the factory instead.

It may be difficult to convince the consumers in the initial phase.  People are used to meat from animals.  It will take some time for consumers to get used to idea of having ‘meat’ from non-animal sources. Flavours, nutrition and especially safety would be in their mind. It does not help that both technologies are producing meat in factory, from ingredients that sound alien and using processes that looks similar to producing genetically-modified food.

Having ‘Singapore’ brand probably helps to promote the acceptance.  While the technology is new and promising to make Singapore more independent for its protein consumption, Singapore should not be compromising on quality and safety.  Only if the consumers see that the Government does not compromise (and transparent) on safety and quality of food produced by those technologies, they will embrace such food.

Singapore may need to embrace such technologies early if it wants to secure its food supplies.  With world’s growing population (and affluence), there is an ever increasing needs for protein.  However, there is a limited available land in the world that can be used farming – without affecting the environment.  Over fishing is threatening global fish production. Global warming will also threaten the food production.

The government should prioritize research and development (R&D) on the technologies.  The technologies, while progressing fast, are still relatively new.  The R&D will allow Singapore to improve the technologies, better the quality of the meat and reduce the cost.

These technologies may come with some high costs due to patents, so it is important for Singapore to have its own R&D to hold some patents. It can use its patented technologies, sell it to other companies (with clauses to safeguard Singapore interest).

Singapore could also be the hub for such technologies, not only limited to R&D but also production.  If it is done correctly, and with acceptance from consumers, Singapore may be in the good position to export the ‘meat’ to the world. 

Many years back Singapore government identified the need to be independent with its water supplies; now it has array of water sources to guarantee its water supplies. Now, it is time for Singapore to secure its food supplies by embracing new technologies.

Great Experience with NZeTA App

Many countries now require visitors from supposed-to-be visa-free countries to apply for ETA (Electronic Travel Authority) or similar scheme before entering the country.

ETA is easier to obtain as compared to the visa.  The former requires only online submission and the results would be made available within a short time, a few days max. However, filling up the form for the ETA – especially for the USA – may be quite daunting.  It is not difficult but simply time consuming.

Until I applied for ETA for New Zealand, NZeTA.  From 1 October 2019 New Zealand will require visitors from visa-free countries to obtain NZeTA prior to the travel.

The New Zealand Immigration provided two options to apply NZeTA: through web or mobile app.  Interestingly, it costs NZD 3 less to apply using the app as compared to the web.  Out of curiosity I chose to apply using the app.

Searching the on Google App Store (well, I am an Android user) app was easy.  The installation was a breeze without any issues.

The application process was surprisingly easy.  Upon opening the app, I was prompted with the welcome page.

Followed by acknowledgement for the usual privacy and term and use.

The next step caught me a bit off guard. It prompted me to take a picture of the passport.

However, rather than taking the picture of the whole passport, the app actually scanned the Machine-Readable Zone (MRZ) area. The screen would show a blue bar where you should align the MRZ. As a result, capturing the MRZ was a breeze!

The next step was quite interesting, it asked me to do selfie!

It took me a few attempts to do the selfie. Once completed, the app displayed the information captured from the MRZ, with the picture on the top-left corner. It asked me to confirm the details.

After that, the app asked a series of questions, starting from whether I want to stay in NZ or coming as a transit passenger, whether I am an Australian permanent resident, and so on. Interestingly, the ‘expected’ answer is always highlighted.

After answering all the questions, I proceeded to pay the ETA and the International Visitor Conservation and Tourism Levy (IVL). The payment was done using credit card and it was a fuzz free. I did not use the feature to take picture of the credit card – which I believe would help me to key-in the credit card details; I chose to key-in the card details myself. The only missing is there was no 2 FA for the credit card transaction.

And that’s it! The whole process was completed in less than 10 minutes, all from within the app itself. It was a great experience!

The app made it easy for anyone who applied for NZeTA. There was no need to upload any additional documents or pictures. The app also reduces or even eliminates error by using MRZ to fill up the details; no need for the applicant to type all the details manually.

The selfie is also interesting. There is no need for the applicant to rush to to instant photo booth or photo studio to take the picture, which would delay the whole application process.

The app practically eliminates all frictions in applying the NZeTA. It is a great innovation from The New Zealand Immigration. As a citizen, friction-less transactions such as what the app offered is the one I am looking for when transacting with the Government; and as a public servant such app is the yardstick for a good Government eServices.

Process and Customer Experience at Economic Rice Stall

One of places I usually go for lunch in the weekdays is the food court at the Esplanade Link.  It is only a short walk from Raffles City complex, it has variety of foods, the foods are generally good and the price is reasonable.

My favorite stall in that food court is the Economic Rice.  This stall always has the longest queue during lunch time; and yet people don’t mind to queue.  Despite the long queue, the queue is surprisingly fast, thanks to the way they serve the customers.

The stall is in the corner, in “L” shape, something similar to the image below.  There were usually four stall keepers manning the stall, other than perhaps another two or three at the back who do the cooking.  The queue started from the stall keeper in the corner, marked with ‘1’.


The stall keeper ‘1’ main responsibility was to ask the customer what he wants: whether he wants rice or porridge and whether he wants to eat the food at the food court or to ta bao (take away).  He then scooped the rice to the plate or a take away box.  He was responsible to scoop the first one or two side dishes that are closest to his area.

The 2nd stall keeper, marked as ‘2’ on the picture above, would then take over the dish.  The customer move dto the left and continue to order side dishes from the area closest to the 2nd stall keeper. Meanwhile, stall keeper ‘1’ took new order.

Once completed, stall keeper ‘2’ handed over the plate or takeaway box full with the food to the 3rd stall keeper, marked with ‘3’ on the picture.  In front of this stall keeper there were two big bowls, one with gravy and another one with curry.  Stall keeper ‘3’ main responsibility was to ask the customer whether he wants curry or gravy to be added to the dish. If the customer ordered porridge, stall keeper ‘3’ would scoop the porridge to the bowl. He then put the dish in front of the 4th stall keeper.

The last stall keeper, stall keeper ‘4’, marked with ‘4’ on the picture, was mainly responsible to handle the payment.  He was also in-charge to put the takeaway box in the plastic bag.  Customer would then leave the stall.

As illustrated above, each stall keeper in the stall had a very clear roles and responsibility; and they followed it to the dot.  There was also a coordination between stall keeper ‘1’ and stall keeper ‘2’; the moment the 2nd stall keeper was free, he would immediately take the plate/box from the stall keeper ‘1’.

Putting the curry and gravy in giant bowls was also a brilliant idea. Without those bowls, if the customer wanted curry or gravy, the dish needs to move back to stall keeper ‘1’ or ‘2’, disrupting the order from other customers.

All of the arrangement above resulted in an efficient queue.  The customers would have a great experience as they could get their meals fast.  The customers would then willing to queue despite the long queue.  The stall also benefits, it could get more income as they could serve more customers within the same period.

However, the stall owner might realized that the arrangement could be improved further. For example, not all customers would want extra gravy or curry.  The 3rd stall keeper was not as busy as his colleagues.

The 4th stall keeper, the cashier, was busy with money (the stall does not accept cashless payment), worse if the customer gave him a big note. For takeaway, he need to close the box, get one plastic bag and put the box[es] in the plastic bag.  This was slower than the speed the first three stall keepers in serving the customers, caused a delay.  It was uncommon to see three to four customers waiting to pay.

Today,  I came to Esplanade Link’s food court again and I noticed the layout of the stall changed a bit and I noticed the queue was even faster.

There was no change in roles and responsibilities for stall keeper ‘1’ and ‘2’; however once stall keeper ‘2’ completed the order, he would hand it over to the cashier, who occupied the space originally meant for the big bowls of curry and gravy.

Customers would make the payment.  The cashier did nothing but accept the payment.  If the customer did not want to get curry or gravy, he would simply pick the dish and leave. For customer who want extra curry or gravy, he simply moved to the left and then scoop the extra curry or gravy himself from the giant bowls.

Stall keeper ‘4’ was responsible to put the boxes to the plastic bag or to get the porridge.

This simple improvement, swapping the role of stall keeper ‘3’ and ‘4’, is brilliant.  It removed bunching at the cashier – when the cashier was busy putting the takeaway box[es] into the plastic bag, which slowed down the whole process.

Customers who eat in the food court and who don’t want to get curry/gravy could immediately pay their meals and go.  The queue for them was faster; other than there was no bunching issue, they also skipped the gravy/curry step in the previous process.

For customers who want extra curry or gravy, they could get the curry/gravy themselves.  As there was no bunching, they could get the food faster.

For takeaway customers, the experience may be the same as before, or perhaps slightly better because there was no bunching.

This small improvement does improve customers experience, simply because the queue moved faster and they could get the food faster.

I am not so sure whether there is a financial benefit, too.  However, as the queue moved faster, it would lead to shorter queue, which may attract more customers.

Whether the stall owner realized or not, he had improved the process and customer experience. He also showed that such activities could be done even by small business like his.  Huge Improvements could be achieved by simple (and looked trivial) changes, such as swapping the stall keepers.