Ever wondered where the top grade pork that we consume in Singapore comes from? Indeed, much rigor and good heart have been invested over the decades to ensure that we in Singapore have on our plate pork that comes from the best of crossbred pigs from Australia, United States, and other parts of the world.

We owe it all to the swine veterans like the Koh family, one of the early pig farmers in Singapore who has witnessed the transformation of the pork industry over the last 60 – 70 years, and has kept up with immense enthusiasm.

The Koh family started pig farming in the 1940s in Yew Tee village. Back then there were more than 3,000 traditional backyard farms rearing pigs, chickens, ducks and geese, mostly for self-consumption and small profits at local markets. Economy of scale was unheard of those days.

Koh Seong Pek, Alan, 70, was then a young second-generation member of the Koh family. He was the second child in a family of thirteen. We spoke with him and his daughter Linda Koh, now the third generation member helming the family business at Woodlands Terrace.

In the 1960s, an Australian by the name of Keith B. Jones from Queensland visited the Koh family to explore business opportunities. Keith was a pig farmer himself. They wanted to sell breeder pigs to Alan to improve their stock. The Australian Landrace is known for their rapid growth and large loin muscle. Incidentally, Alan studied at an English school back then and had no problem with the interaction.

That historic meet sparked off a decades-long family and business relationship between the Australian and Singapore pig farming families that last till this day. Keith was survived by this son Ian Jones (72), and grandsons Andrew (47) and Marcus (45) Jones. Ian and Alan, who are just two years apart, are close friends even today.

Alan remarked that pigs in Singapore then were not up to mark, but the Australians had Landrace pigs that are suitable for intensive farming. He did what a business entrepreneur would do: Improve product quality to increase product differentiation. He was constantly looking for new techniques to cross breed, using Duroc pigs from United States, Belgium Landrace, and others.

In the 1970s, the government resettled farmers from water catchment sites to alleviate the problems of water pollution from pig farms. An intensive pig farming 1,000-hectare estate was developed in Punggol to house relocated pig farms. The Primary Production Department helped to improve farming methods, breeding techniques, nutrition and disease control, overall played a major role in improving animal husbandry.

But it was not long before pig farming was to be completely phased out. In 1984, Singapore reviewed its policy on pig farming, and decided to phase out pig farming by 1987 as it was felt that the limited land and water resources in Singapore should be used for housing and industry. Moreover, in a small city-state like Singapore, pig farms built too close to urban areas with its associated mal-odor were unacceptable to city dwellers.

After the shutdown in the late 1980s, pig farmers resorted to pork imports. Again the problem now is to source for the best grade for Singaporean consumption. Singapore farmers tried pork from Malaysia, Australia, and Indonesia. Alan sealed a deal with the Jones family in the late 1990s to bring Aussie port to Singapore where major corporations such as the Singapore Food Industries are counted among their clientèle. Alan became the exclusive importer and supplier for fresh air-flown pork from premium Australian pork brand, Pilton Valley.

Linda Koh, Alan’s daughter studied in Queensland University in Business Communication in the early 2000s and spent a few years in the printing industry as she wanted to experience a different kind of industry. Her ability immediately stood out when she secured foreign clientèle accounts for her company so much so that they negotiated to give her a year of no-pay leave when she wanted to leave the company to help her father.

In 2008, she decided to return to her family business when her father started to experience health problems and was hospitalized. She frankly acknowledged that she did not think she was cut for it as she felt a pig house is not a place for women.

She recounted that at wet markets when her company supplied port, a pork seller once threw a slate of meat to her challenging her to identify the part of the pig where the meat belongs. The young and ladylike Linda knew then that she had to know her produce well if she was to survive and do well in the family port supplier business.

Not only did she took efforts to literally learn from the ground up, she took their family business to new heights; becoming the first frozen pork supplier in Singapore with an Internet presence that allows customers to place orders online and have their purchases home-delivered. The third-generation-family business now includes a whole range of frozen or chilled meat products: pork, smoked duck, chicken, beef, goose and prawns.

The phasing out of pig farming in the late 1980s have seen creative and entrepreneurial endeavors by the affected pig farmers who need to source for new income. Like the Koh family, some have re-invented themselves to stay i a related business. Some have achieved success branching into other domains, the most notable of which is Lim Hock Chee, chief executive of the chain of Sheng Siong supermarkets.