Singapore’s food waste has risen by one fifth in the last decade—and yet there are people who don’t have access to nutritious meals. How can we narrow the gap?
Going hungry in Singapore can be an unfathomable concept to many, especially with the myriad affordable food options that could go as low as $2.50 for a plate of chicken rice. Last year, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Singapore as the most food-secure country in the world on its Global Food Security Index.
Yet, a 2020 United Nations report on The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World revealed that 4.7 per cent of Singapore’s population face moderate to severe food insecurity and lack reliable access to affordable nutrition. On the other end of the spectrum, the amount of food waste generated in Singapore has increased by about 20 per cent in the past 10 years and is expected to climb with our growing population and economic activity, according to the National Environment Agency (NEA). Out of the 744,000 tonnes of food waste generated in 2019, only 18 per cent was recycled.
“While awareness has increased for both food waste and food insecurity, the reality is that the gap has widened with the increased food insecurity situation,” says Nichol Ng, co-founder of The Food Bank Singapore. “More people have become food insecure as a result of losing their livelihoods during the pandemic. So even with greater awareness, the rate of food donations doesn’t necessarily match the rate of growing need. Based on our pre-Covid-19 food insecurity report, which was commissioned to the Lien Centre for Social Innovation in early 2019, one in 10 people is already experiencing food insecurity. That number has currently climbed to one in nine, or worse.”
Other food groups here are also reporting a similar situation. Food from the Heart (FFTH) CEO Sim Bee Hia shares that the charity has been receiving more direct requests for food aid. In February, it was supplying 6,500 food packs a month. By July, the number had risen to nearly 8,600. Free Food for All (FFFA) founder Nizar Mohamed Shariff says that he received over 800 enquiries when he first posted the assistance request form on the charity’s Facebook page. Pre-pandemic, he would see 100 to 120 new applicants a month. Through the support of the Temasek Foundation (the philanthropic arm of Singapore investment firm Temasek Holdings) and Food is Love Foundation (a charitable foundation set up by real estate developer Kishin RK’s food firm TiffinLabs), the charity distributed over 120,000 cooked and ready-to-eat meals to the needy, and another 1,000 meals to migrant workers with funds donated by venture capitalist Ozi Amanat and his wife Asema Ahmed.
BRIDGING THE FOOD GAP
While awareness campaigns have gone some way in raising public awareness of suitable food donation and the need to consume only what is needed, challenges still remain in the efficient coordination and distribution of resources. There are also about 125 food support groups providing assistance, from ration packs and cooked food to cash vouchers.
“We are definitely seeing more donations in kind, and people are calling to find out what we need before donating,” says Sim. “For each item, we check, sort and key in the details such as pricing and source into the computer system. It’s a lot of hard work to sort out what should go where.” For example, diabetic beneficiaries cannot take sugar-loaded products, while items with a shorter shelf life are channelled to nursing homes or community kitchens that do bulk cooking.
Preston Wong, the co-founder and CEO of Treatsure, feels that more can be done to coordinate efforts between organisations and to deploy technology to efficiently streamline the process from tracking or analysing the food to the actual donation and redistribution to beneficiaries. His Treatsure app links consumers to hotels on a takeaway buffet-in-a-box model to tackle surplus food from buffet lines, and to grocery suppliers for the purchase of excess, expiring or blemished items to reduce wastage upstream. While the former has been suspended for now, surplus grocery orders have increased three-fold during Singapore’s two-month circuit breaker period. This has brought on logistical and resource challenges, yet the app has proven useful in enabling users to buy groceries for needy families on their own accord and rallying support to get snacks for about 5,000 foreign workers through an initiative with Migrant Workers’ Centre.
Meanwhile, at FFFA, an employee manually keys in the details on which households get priority in food aid. “We also ask if they prefer fresh food or ready-to-eat meals. Some need breakfast items for the kids before they go to school so we put in energy bars,” Nizar explains. He has been trying to install a more efficient software system that includes stocktaking and delivery routing, but the quotations of $80,000 to $100,000 have been daunting.