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Reconstructing a Secure Food Ecosystem

Emil Fazira Profile Picture
Emil Fazira Bio
Somaia  Basha Profile Picture
Somaia Basha Bio

While food security has been a long-standing pressure globally, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has made existing issues more apparent. Many countries now consider food security of greater urgency moving ahead.

In the path towards food security, however, it is essential to tie potential strategies to all aspects of the food ecosystem – firstly, the supply chain, which includes production, storage and packaging; secondly, distribution, which ensures food availability, affordability and quality; and thirdly, consumer behaviour, which includes dining habits and food waste. Any weak link within this ecosystem will have a ripple effect and could cause a setback.

Localisation is key to sustainable supply

Companies and nations have done more in 2020 to secure local and regional production, incentivised by supply chain disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The effects of local production include lower price mark-ups, effectively ensuring more affordable prices. It also allows businesses better access to smaller retailers located in less connected cities. Consumers have been encouraged to purchase from local farmers’ markets and brands, consequently supporting local communities and empowering smaller businesses.

The Saudi Government, for example, has been progressively moving towards reducing meat imports for years, but in 2020 the Kingdom successfully reduced share of imports to 40% (down from 51% in 2015). Between 2019 and 2020, the value of imports reduced by 15%. This is a key milestone which indicates progressively less reliance on foreign imports.

imagenrfo9.pngSource: Euromonitor International Industrial 

This reduction was made possible through intense improvement of the industry infrastructure and encouraging domestic market production. The government has also increased import duties and reduced the number of approved foreign slaughterhouses to encourage companies to source from local producers.

Efforts made to diversify ingredients

Localisation strategies are being complemented with diversification, which means less reliance on a single or a few markets Using a greater variety of ingredient and crop types also boosts resilience among farmers through dynamic seasonal changes, allowing them to be less susceptible to unforeseen shocks and to minimise setbacks further down the supply chain. This also has a large positive impact on communities, as income streams become more stable throughout the year instead of being dependent on certain crop seasons. Diverse choices also benefit consumer diets and nutrition, effectively providing a wider product selection.

WhatIf Foods in Singapore has been one example of incorporating “future-fit crops” such as moringa into one of Asia’s most beloved sources of carbohydrate, instant noodles.

imageolm4j.pngSource: Euromonitor International Staple Foods

Despite the success of introducing its brand into NTUC Fairprice, one of the leading supermarkets in Singapore, penetrating the market is challenging due to the strength of leading, established brands. Encouraging consumers to spend more on alternative sources of staple foods is also not easy. Efforts to encourage consumers to shift away from mass brands have been boosted by the growth of e-commerce, through which WhatIf emphasises its value-for-money positioning from both a nutritional and environmental perspective.

Ethical certifications and programmes promote sustainable food

The need for governments and manufacturers to protect and empower farming communities through sustainable practices and certification is especially pertinent, as sustainable practices help to establish greater health of the land. Further down the supply chain, there are retailers that are committed to selling sustainable brands, and there has been a rising trend of conscious consumption and value-led purchasing decisions amongst consumers.

imagek2cr.pngSource: Euromonitor International Industrial 

Despite having the largest land area for agriculture, the Middle East and Africa and Asia Pacific are among the lowest organic farming land areas globally, and there is the potential to support sustainable practices to a much greater degree in these communities. By contrast, Australasia is a leader in terms of organic production, a feat that is especially significant given that it only has two major markets.

Ethical certifications and programmes can help to motivate brands and consumers to buy sustainable products, and organic certification is one such example. In 2020, organic dairy (the most sizeable organic category) recorded retail sales of USD12.9 million globally.

Digital transformation shows the way forward

Technology is set to be the driving force for the food ecosystem in the future, enabling innovation and smoothing out inefficiencies in the supply chain by speeding up certain stages of the process:

  • Vertical farming and cell-cultured meat are focus strategies especially applicable to land-scarce nations that require large-scale local production.
  • Agri-tech, such as hydroponic farms, also allows the growing of crops without soil and resolves challenges such as extreme climate and insufficient yield (as farmers have the option to control growth conditions).
  • Blockchain is a focus to allow for high-level transparency within the food ecosystem; better traceability removes blind spots and decreases clutter, leading to a more secure infrastructure.

For more insights, see the report Food Security: A New Vision and the related article Coronavirus Intensifies Food Security Concerns in Southeast Asia.

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