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Let’s protect those who secure our food

31 Jan 2019

To many Singaporeans, my professional life is an oddity because I come from a country with hardly any agriculture. Food security is therefore a major concern for Singapore where we import at least 90% of our food but only grow 10% of our vegetable requirements. Some years ago, I had a memorable one-to-one lunch meeting with Singapore's 5th President, the late Mr. SR Nathan, to talk about his thoughts on this issue. His overriding view was that we needed to diversify our sources of food and innovate more ways to grow food with our limited land size. This is an opinion that I absolutely share with him. However, food security is not only a concern for Singapore, it is more appropriately termed a global challenge that concerns the ever growing population of the world.

At this very moment, there are more mouths to feed than ever before. Secure access to food is clearly vital and with that, securing those who grow it – the millions of farmers around the world.

For me, the answer is the millions of smallholder farmers that cultivate on very small farm land, and yet produce the main amount of food that is consumed in their communities and countries . In Asia alone, more than 90% of the world’s rice supply is predominantly produced by smallholders. Not so small after all! However, smallholders are exposed to many risks that hinder them in accessing their full agronomic and business potential. Over the years, I have witnessed the terrible effects of adverse weather conditions in places like Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia. Climate change and consequently extreme weather makes matters worse. Just a few months ago, Typhoon Mangkhut struck the Philippine island of Luzon and destroyed more than a quarter million tons of rice. This is enough rice to feed Singapore for a year!

That’s why one of the key aspects to food security is farmer security. This is a huge challenge in Asia and particularly South East Asia, where millions of smallholder farmers remain uninsured. It leaves them only with the government to depend on for financial help when it comes to damages caused by severe weather conditions. In my current role as Head of Food and Agriculture Sales at Swiss Re Corporate Solutions, my colleagues and I aim to bridge this protection gap where technology has yet to find a solution. A reason I spend a tremendous amount of time speaking with governments and smallholders and try to share with them the advantages and importance of being insured.

By utilizing third-party data from satellite sources that monitor weather conditions, we are able to structure parametric insurance covers for smallholders. This way smallholder farmers have the financial means to buy new seeds, start again and quickly recover after a bad weather event. However, insurance is not the sole solution to help smallholders stay in business. They also need advanced agricultural practices, crop protection, market access and financial assistance. Better Life Farming unites all this in one strong alliance. I truly believe that together, we can contribute to make a difference in the lives of smallholders and help to build a resilient society – both in Asia and around the world.

Singapore's 5th President, the late Mr. SR Nathan and Jeffrey Khoo meet for lunch to discuss the future of food security in Singapore.

Jeffrey Khoo visiting pepper smallholders in Vietnam, Pak Song to learn more about their challenges and how we can better support them.

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