Singapore

City Profile / 1st Quarter 2020

Singapore

by Alakesh Dutta

Inside Sustenir’s indoor farm (photo courtesy of Sustenir Agriculture)
Rooftop urban farm at Funan Mall (Photo courtesy of Woods Bagot Asia Ltd)

A NECESSITY FOR THE FUTURE

Singapore has consistently ranked high in the Global Food Security Index (published by The Economist Intelligence Unit), even topping it in 2018 and 2019 1. These rankings list the most food secure nations in the world. Singapore’s ranking is a validation of its work and commitment towards keeping food prices affordable and maintaining high standards for food safety. To ensure the future of its food security, it has set its sight upon improving local production that only accounts for less than 10 per cent of its demand at present. The past couple of years have thus witnessed a greater sense of urgency on the part of the government as it takes the lead to transform the food sector through several top-down initiatives.

The other key move was to define the self-sufficiency target that Singapore must meet within the next decade. This warrants that actions are focused, measurable and accountable. The goal is to increase local food production capabilities threefold over the next decade. Termed as the 30 by 30 Vision, it aims to increase local production of fruits and vegetables to 20 per cent of the demand, and that of protein from sources like meat and fish to 10 per cent 1.

Although Singapore has a growing number of community-based urban farms, the government is instead looking to modern agrotechnology farms to make up the shortfall in local production. Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, identified four key initiatives required to achieve this target 3 :

  • Use technology to grow more with less;
  • Unlock physical spaces for farming;
  • Develop local talent; and
  • Get consumers to support local.

In 2018, the erstwhile Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) deviated from the common tendering method of awarding farming parcels based on the bid amount. It instead awarded 13 land parcels (10 parcels for vegetable farming and three for aquaculture) with a fixed tender price to companies solely on the merit of their concept for innovation and high-intensity production 4.

PRO-ACTIVE POLICY ACTIONS

One of the government’s first acts was to form a new dedicated agency to oversee all matters related to food security and safety. The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) came into effect on 1 April, 2019 to take charge of responsibilities that were earlier split amongst three different agencies, thereby streamlining the regulatory and administrative processes. In addition to maintaining oversight over all food matters, it is responsible for requiring importers to have plans to mitigate the impacts of any supply disruptions 1&2.

A GROWING AGROTECH FARMING SECTOR

A positive trend in the local food industry has been the rapid rise in the number of agrotech farms. From just one such farm in 2012, and seven in 2016 5, it is reported that there are 30 of these farms functional as of 2019 6. More are expected. These farms have been demonstrating improved ability and robustness of their proprietary technologies to produce safe, quality food.

Rooftop urban farm at Funan Mall (photo courtesy by Edible Garden City)

AGROTECH FARMS VIS-À-VIS COMMUNITY FARMS

Liak is an urban farmer by passion. He has served as Chief Executive Officer of Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH); Alexandra Hospital; Changi General Hospital; and Toa Payoh Hospital; as well as Chairman of Singapore’s National Environment Agency and a board member of many other agencies and bodies. In his capacity as CEO of KTPH, he was instrumental in shaping the lush green campus together with its community-based rooftop farm.

Further to creating a conducive policy and market environment, the one other important aspect for Singapore would be to groom the new generation of farmers who can sustain this modern agrotech-based industry. Farming must be viewed as a viable career option. Companies like AAG are already working with local institutions in transferring industrial knowledge to schools to train future farmers.

It appears that the efforts to build a new agrotech-based economy in Singapore have begun in the right direction. However, there also remains several critical open-ended issues that will need to be addressed to ensure the longevity and viability of this sector.

Bibliography

1. Liew, Maegan. 30 by 30: Boosting food security in land-scarce Singapore. Asean Today. [Online] March 22, 2019. https://www.aseantoday.com/2019/03/30-by-30-boosting-food-security-in-land-scarce-singapore/.

2. Cheng, Ian. New laws proposed to ensure Singapore’s food security. Channel News Asia. [Online] January 16, 2019. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/new-laws-proposed-singapore-food-agency-security-11126814?cid=h3_referral_inarticlelinks_24082018_cna.

3. Mahmud, Aqil Haziq. Singapore aims to produce 30% of its nutritional needs by 2030, up from less than 10%. Channel News Asia. [Online] March 7, 2019. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/singapore-produce-30-own-food-up-from-10-nutritional-needs-11320426.

4. Wong, Derek. AVA awards 10 land parcels to vegetable farmers with innovative concepts. The Straits Times. [Online] February 9, 2018. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/ava-awards-10-land-parcels-to-vegetable-farmers-with-innovative-concepts.

5. Singh, Bryna. Vertical farms on the rise in land scarce Singapore. The Straits Times. [Online] July 10, 2016. https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/vertical-farms-on-the-rise-in-land-scarce-singapore.

6. From sky farms to lab-grown shrimp, Singapore eyes food future. Channel News Asia. [Online] May 30, 2019. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/singapore-food-future-sky-farms-lab-shrimps-11579732.

7. Sky Greens. [Online] https://www.skygreens.com/.

8. Begum, Shabana. Vertical farm receives the world’s first urban farm certification for organic vegetables. The Straits Times. [Online] June 11, 2019. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/vertical-farm-receives-the-worlds-first-urban-farm-certification-for-organic-vegetables.

9. Wei, Low De. Strawberries grown in Singapore vertical farm make debut. The Straits Times. [Online] June 20, 2018. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/strawberries-grown-in-singapore-vertical-farm-make-debut.

10. Wan, Lester. Singapore’s largest indoor farm to give food firms and national food security a boost. Food Navigator-Asia.com. [Online] August 8, 2018. https://www.foodnavigator-asia.com/Article/2018/08/08/Singapore-s-largest-indoor-farm-to-give-food-firms-and-national-food-security-a-boost.

11. Eisenberg, Jacob. Cultivating Future Farmers — Singapore’s Kok Fah Technology Farm. Medium. [Online] February 2, 2018. https://medium.com/agri-futures/cultivating-future-farmers-singapores-kok-fah-technology-farm-9e2d9af5e48e.

12. Singapore – The Next Great Place for Urban Agriculture. Enterprise Singapore. [Online] January 18, 2019. https://www.enterprisesg.gov.sg/blog/agritech/singapore-the-next-great-place-for-urban-agriculture?utm_source=website&utm_medium=blog&utm_campaign=Indoor+Ag-Con+2019.

13. Singapore makes room for allotment gardens as urban farming takes root. Today Online. [Online] April 15, 2019. https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/singapore-makes-room-allotment-gardens-urban-farming-takes-root.

14. Former Henderson Secondary to transform into pre-school, nursing home, urban farm. Channel News Asia. [Online] September 25, 2018. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/henderson-secondary-transform-childcare-nursing-home-farm-10755836?cid=h3_referral_inarticlelinks_24082018_cna.

15. Rodrigues, Stacey. Urban Rooftop Farming Is Becoming More Than Just A Trend In Singapore. Singapore Tatler. [Online] October 29, 2019. https://sg.asiatatler.com/dining/singapore-urban-rooftop-farming-trend.

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