Singapore—Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leong Mun Wai expressed concern over the future of Singapore’s hawker culture as well as elderly hawkers in Parliament on Thursday (March 4).
However, Dr Amy Khor, the Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, said that the number of hawkers is not in decline. She noted that the hawker centres run by the National Environment Agency (NEA) have a vacancy rate of only 2 per cent.
Mr Leong, who is from the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), had said hawker food had been “declining in popularity since the late 1980s as Singaporeans look for a better eating environment”.
He also mentioned that the number of hawker centers had declined from 140 at its peak, to around 100 “at the turn of the millennium”.
With the country’s food and beverage scene becoming more sophisticated over the years, hawker food has remained an affordable option, he noted, but the survival of hawkers is threatened by high rentals and running costs.
This has been a disincentive for new hawkers, Mr Leong added.
“The most pressing problem of the hawker trade is to replace an entire generation of retiring hawkers,” whose average age is 60 and many of whom have no successors.
Many of the children of hawkers do not want to continue their parents’ line of work, and neither do the parents desire they do so, said the NCMP.
He suggested focusing on the preservation of local food culture and recipes rather than positioning hawker food as a source of inexpensive meals.
In response, Dr Khor noted the low vacancy rate in hawker centres. She also cited the new Hawkers’ Development Programme training programme, for which there are 200 applicants, 66 individuals who are done with the apprenticeship, and 46 others who are now looking for stalls where they can start the programme’s incubation stage.
Therefore, she said, it is “not correct to say that hawker centres are declining in popularity”.
Earlier, on March 4, she also announced that three new hawker centres will be opening soon: Bukit Canberra Hawker Centre and Fernvale Hawker Centre and Market (2021), and Senja Hawker Centre (2022).
“What we need to do is ensure that our hawker centres continue to provide affordable, delicious food in a clean environment,” said Dr Khor.
Addressing the issue of food heritage, she cited the endeavours to preserve this, including the Hawker Succession Programme.
This initiative is for older hawkers who have no successors but who want to pass their recipes and skills to a “new breed of hawkers”.
At the moment, there are 70 veteran hawkers who are mentoring others, said Dr Khor.
“The fact that hawker culture is the pride of everyone in Singapore, there is great hope that we will be able to sustain it together.”
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