AMSTERDAM: As Singapore thinks about the future economy, the country can take inspiration from the Dutch’s strong spirit of innovation, said President Halimah Yacob on Saturday (Nov 24) during her state visit to the Netherlands.
Speaking to the media at the end of her trip, President Halimah said she was impressed at the Dutch’s ability to “convert adversity into opportunity”.
She cited the example of the Dutch’s "water story". Nearly a third of the Netherlands is below sea level. If the country did not protect itself against the waters, half of Holland would be submerged. The task of safeguarding the country was not easy, but the Dutch had over the years, come up with a wide-range of solutions like canals, pumping stations and dikes to help them tackle the problem.
“They’ve invested 400 years of research to come up with flood-mitigation measures. But they didn’t stop there, they continued to refine and do better. And they’ve become the world’s leaders in climate adaptation measures,” Madam Halimah said.
The Netherlands’ achievement in the area of food security is also particularly relevant to Singapore.
During her visit to a vertical farming greenhouse facility by Wageningen University, Madam Halimah said she was struck by how the Dutch used technology to intensify production, which has helped the country become the world’s second largest exporter of food by value.
“We’re at a nascent stage in Singapore for vertical farming,” she said. “Food security is something very important for us. We import almost entirely all our food … We used to have about, I think, 20 per cent of land area for farming, and it is now reduced to about one per cent. But we can’t go back to that era where we have a huge usage of land for obvious reasons - resources are scarce.”
To nurture a spirit of innovation, Madam Halimah suggested fostering a culture of inquisitiveness from young.
“When children come back home, don’t ask them whether they’ve finished their homework … ask them what questions did they ask their teachers,” she said.
“It sounds very simple, but it’s not so simple. It’s about encouraging the children to think. Have you thought of any issues? Have you asked your teachers about those issues? And then you multiply that throughout society.”
President Halimah said the trip was a fruitful experience, and she hoped the state visit will help to further deepen the strong cooperation between both nations.