Understanding Food Insecurity in Singapore – Singapore ranks as the world’s fourth most food-secure nation on the Global Food Security Index

Singapore is a nation of food lovers, with food thought to be an important facet of Singaporeans’ cultural identity.

1 The variety of food on offer reflects Singapore’s diverse population, and

eateries range from neighbourhood hawker centres to high end

Michelin-starred restaurants. Food is a vehicle to bring people together.

It provides a sense of nostalgia—the taste of childhood and memories of roving hawkers across the citystate. It has an aspirational dimension as people seek to eat at the “best” locations across the island.

2 Food plays an integral part in the lives of Singaporeans.

Singapore ranks as the world’s fourth most food-secure nation on the Global Food Security Index.

3 This index considers the affordability, availability, and quality and safety of food supply. As a small island state, Singapore has limited land capacity to produce its own food. Through building a resilient food supply system, the nation as a whole has reached a state of good food security.

4 Moreover, the presence of

  • wet markets,
  • local food stores
  • supermarkets

means that fresh food is widely available across the nation.

Add to these

  • hawker centres,
  • coffee shops
  • food courts where food is priced at a few dollars,

and it is apparent that affordable cooked food can be conveniently found.

Nevertheless, recent newspaper reports and articles have brought attention to the existence of food insecurity among certain sections of society and highlighted how the fancy cars and bright lights of the cosmopolitan citystate work well to hide this very pertinent issue.

5 Food Insecurity in Singapore The seeds of the current study were sown when the issue of food insecurity surfaced in a previous study aimed at measuring overall poverty in Singapore in 2013–14.

6 Like poverty, food insecurity has been under-explored in Singapore, with no official definition or recognition of the issue. Nevertheless, various organisations and programmes provide food support in the country.

One recent study by Tan et al. documented the lived experiences of food insecurity, shedding light on the poor health among low-income groups and debunking the multilayered approach in state welfare.

7 It identified numerous gaps and inequities in the system from the perspective of the beneficiaries, that is, people who received food support.

This study builds on the previous study by taking a systemic approach. It examines household food insecurity in Singapore as experienced by those who encounter it as well as organisations providing food support to such individuals and families. It explores the experiences of both beneficiaries and service providers. Such an approach should help to bridge the gaps between food support organisations and their beneficiaries.

Specifically, this study provides insights into the following research questions:

  1. Who among Singaporean citizens and PRs is experiencing food insecurity and why?
  2. How are the existing food support systems meeting the needs of those living with food insecurity?
  3. What are the gaps in service provision? Food security is achieved “when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.

8 In contrast, household food insecurity comes about when a household does not have, or is not confident of having, “economic and physical access to sufficient, acceptable food for a healthy life”.

9 Crucial to the definition is the uncertainty of food supply: food may be available to the household at a specific point in time, but the household’s uncertainty in sourcing adequate food tomorrow, in a week or in the coming month suggests food insecurity. Without access to adequate nutritious foods, households may also be food insecure even if they are hunger free.

While healthy food may be available across Singapore, the question is whether it is accessible to all. Food costs in Singapore are rising,

10 squeezing household budgets. Moreover, from a financial perspective, food is a flexible item in a household’s budget “that can be cut when housing, fuel or debt repayments cannot be postponed”.

11 Hence, when households face financial difficulties with competing needs, their expenditure on food can be compromised.

Food insecurity arises also due to other non-economic concerns. For instance, in some households food may be available but not accessible due to a lack of resources (time, equipment or ability to cook).

12 Moreover, the elderly and persons with disabilities and health conditions are more vulnerable to food insecurity due to their lower mobility, poor health, and lack of access to food and transportation.

Singapore’s Food Support Landscape

The growing presence of food support organisations and groups is testimony to the issue of household food insecurity in Singapore.

For instance, there are about 125 such organisations and groups with an online presence as of the time of this writing. While there is no coordinated government approach to food support in Singapore, these organisations and groups provide such support.

Foodspecific organisations such as

  • The Food Bank
  • Willing Hearts
  • Food from the Heart

distribute food of different types to those in need.

Religious organisations and community groups also provide food support.

Moreover, organisations that work with low-income households and marginalised individuals across Singapore often have, as one of their many programmes, some kind of food support.

This support takes the form of

distribution of ration packs,

cooked food,

vouchers/cash to purchase food.

For example, the Agency for Integrated Care offers home delivery of cooked meals at a subsidised rate to those who are unable to shop and cook for themselves.

Through qualitative and quantitative research methodologies, this study is an exploratory attempt at understanding the issue of food insecurity in Singapore.

Drawing on the findings, it provides suggestions for improvement in current support systems to aid long-term progress in tackling food insecurity.

Suresh Shah, Pathfinders Enterprise

My thoughts in writing above, are influenced by few political speeches in Singapore

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