Singapore: improving food security through compartmentalisation

The successful case of Singapore's improved food security system showcases the value of recognising WOAH’s compartmentalisation standards to ensure the safe trade of animals and related commodities.

Singapore is a city-state in Southeast Asia and the third most densely populated country in the world. At the crossroads of two oceans, the island lacks natural land resources: only 1% of its land is available for agricultural production, which makes the country reliant on international trade for food supply. 

Supplying food in Singapore 


about 90% of food is imported from over 180 countries


of eggs come from Malaysia 


of meat is supplied from Brazil

Despite being one of the world’s leading economic powerhouses, Singapore remains exposed to external and internal challenges. An array of factors, including climate change, global geopolitical tensions, population growth, the scarcity of land available for animal production as well as disease outbreaks and pandemics could endanger its food security. Managing major trade relationships and ensuring that imported animals and animal products are safe and free of animal and zoonotic diseases are therefore crucial in protecting the long-term supply of food of animal origin. Singapore deals with such issues through a One Health approach, with agencies such as the National Parks Board (NParks) and Singapore Food Agency (SFA) to learn, prevent, prepare and respond to cross-sectoral public health threats using an integrated and collaborative approach.  

183 countries and regions

in 2022, the number of imported food supply sources by countries and regions stand at 183

42 countries

are allowed to export livestock, meat and egg items to Singapore, having met SFA’s requirements for food safety and animal health

Note: Livestock, meat and egg items are more susceptible to contamination and can lead to foodborne diseases in consumers.

Diversification, a key strategy to ensure Singapore’s food security


of import


local production

With more than 90% of food imported, diversification is a key strategy to ensure Singapore’s food security. SFA continuously works to diversify Singapore’s import sources so that Singaporeans can enjoy a stable supply of safe food.

How do animal diseases threaten food security? 

Southeast Asia shows a complex epidemiological landscape, with a recent upsurge of infectious disease outbreaks such as foot-and-mouth disease, classical swine fever, African swine fever and avian influenza ripping through parts of the region. These animal diseases pose a threat to international trade and may jeopardise food security. Livestock diseases often have a toll on animal health and the economy, and it is therefore imperative for national and international regulations to enable their progressive control.  

Considering the role that Singapore plays as a major international trading hub and high-end travel destination, the importance of maintaining a disease-free status for major animal diseases takes on special importance. It is therefore a priority that animal diseases are managed before they reach the country’s shores. WOAH international standards propose several alternatives that allow safe international trade, including zoning, compartmentalisation and commodity-based trade. The recognition of compartments by importing partners comes with large benefits but is not an easy task. This makes the experience from Singapore an important one to share.

In a scenario where a disease is present compartmentalisation is particularly relevant. The measure, in fact, allows the functional separation of an animal subpopulation in a limited geographical area from other domestic or wild animals from the same area through biosecurity and management measures. These are two essential components of compartmentalisation that should be developed through cooperation of industry and Veterinary Services. Public-private partnerships play indeed a key role in the successful implementation of compartmentalisation. When adjusted to the identified and monitored risks, biosecurity and management measures prevent disease introduction into the compartment and thus guarantee the maintenance of disease freedom. In this way, trade of animals and animal products from the compartment may be sustained.  

Compartmentalisation can grant importing countries and trade partners the needed confidence to assure that commodities derived from a given established compartment are free from specific diseases.  

Preserving safe trade in one of the smallest countries in the world

Compartmentalisation provides countries with a tool for continued trade and export of animals and animal products, regardless of the animal health situation of the country or the area in which the compartment is located. Without compartmentalisation, a disease outbreak could result in restrictions to trade from the entire country to many others around the world. This is especially important for a country like Singapore, which relies heavily on international trade. 

The case of Singapore illustrates the importance of recognising compartments between trade partners. Dr Kelvin Lim, who serves as Director for Bio risk & Bio-surveillance and the Quarantine & Biosecurity Services at the Animal & Veterinary Service (AVS) under Singapore’s NParks, is acutely aware of the importance of recognising compartments between trade partners.

The recognition of compartments overseas has been giving Singapore the confidence to allow the safe trade of animals and animal products into the country, in line with WOAH’s international standards, while minimising disruption to food supply.

Dr Kelvin Lim, Director for Bio risk & Bio-surveillance and the Quarantine & Biosecurity Services, Animal & Veterinary Service (AVS), Singapore NParks.

“To reap the full benefits of compartmentalisation, Singapore has been actively initiating discussions with major trading partners on the establishment of compartmentalisation arrangements for various diseases, even before the diseases are present in these countries”, Lim adds. “This is because compartmentalisation requires Singapore to make robust assessments of the risks of disease introduction with the import of specific commodities, and we can apply calibrated measures, be it at the exporting farm level or at a border level, to reduce the risk [of disease] introductions. Trading partners should establish parameters and reach agreement on the necessary measures prior to outbreaks of disease”, he explains.

“Having discussions and assessments of compartments conducted during peacetime is naturally more effective and efficient, as compared to conducting them during disease outbreaks, when the exporting country is likely busy combatting them. “This also allows us to appreciate the contingency plans needed in the event of a failure of risk management strategies upstream,” Lim concludes.  

Compartmentalisation will continue to remain instrumental for the continuity of imports of animals and products of animal origin. It will help ensure supply of safe food for Singapore and maintain Singapore’s disease-free status whilst protecting animal and public health.

Dr Wong Yelin, Director for Risk Management & Surveillance, Joint Operations Division of the Singapore Food Agency (SFA).

Looking forward, engaging trading partners to have a robust system in place, even before a disease outbreak unfolds, will allow Singapore to keep imports safe despite the challenges ahead.