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Growing More With Less

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Companies here are leveraging on technology to come up with innovative solutions to help secure our nation’s food supply.

Having reliable access to food is not something Singapore can take for granted. As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, a crisis can easily disrupt our nation’s food supply. This is a concern that needs to be addressed.

In March 2019, the Singapore government announced a ‘30 by 30’ goal: it will produce 30% of our nutritional needs by 2030, up from 10%. Producing our own food is no easy task, given land scarcity and the fact that only 1% of our land mass has been set aside for agriculture.

The government has placed its hopes on science and technology to develop creative solutions. Among these solutions are multi-storey LED vegetable farms and recirculating aquaculture systems that can produce 10 to 15 times more vegetables and fish than conventional farms. To achieve its goal of greater self-reliance, grants are being given out to those who can use technology to yield greater amounts.

The food items with potential for increased domestic production include vegetables, eggs and fish. According to the Singapore Food Agency, these three types of goods are commonly consumed, but are perishable and more susceptible to supply disruptions.

Since 2017, land has been leased in Lim Chu Kang and Sungei Tengah to commercial farm projects, and more urban spaces — from car park rooftops and reused outdoor spaces to retrofitted building interiors — are being used for farming. To date, 31 high-tech indoor urban farms exist in Singapore — 28 for vegetables, and three for fish.

As part of the effort to achieve Singapore’s ‘30 by 30’ goal, collaborations have been carried out among government agencies, such as the Singapore Food Agency and A*Star, institutes of higher learning and companies in the agritech space.

Commonwealth Greens is a farm set up by Archisen

Archisen is one such company that has worked with A*Star and other relevant public agencies to come up with new concepts and innovations to maximise homegrown food production. Its farm management system — Cropdom — makes use of Internet-of-Things technology and data analytics to overcome traditional physical barriers of farming to ensure optimal yield, fast growth, and flavourful greens. The farm is able to harvest up to 100 tonnes of vegetables annually — close to 1% of leafy vegetables grown locally — that it sells to retailers through its brand, Just Produce.

The company has also developed Just Harvest, which provides retail storefronts with house-grown plants. Archisen installs vertical towers on their premises, enabling restaurants, cafes and hotels to harvest the vegetables and serve them to their customers.

Another company that has created vertical indoor farms that can be retrofitted into existing buildings is Sustenir Agriculture. Since 2014, the company has been using high-tech methods – what it refers to as “controlled environment agriculture” — as well as hydroponics and vertical farming to grow a variety of non-native plants indoors. It uses 95% less water than traditional farming. In an area of 54m2, Sustenir can produce 1 tonne of kale or 3.2 tonnes of lettuce a month.Yet another urban farm is Citiponics, which in 2018 turned the top of a car park into a farm. It uses a custom-designed modular hydroponics system to cultivate up to 25 different types of leafy vegetables and herbs. The 1,800m2 farm can grow up to 4 tonnes of food per month with its system, which consumes about 1% of water used in conventional farming, and 10% of water used in other hydroponics systems.

NParks launched the ‘Gardening with Edibles’ initiative in June last year to motivate the public to grow edible plants in their home gardens. Under this programme, it distributed free seed packets to interested members of the public and holds gardening masterclasses for them. The programme is part of a larger effort to build food resilience – in line with the ‘30 by 30’ goal.

Besides sustainable urban agriculture, the government is also allocating funds for future foods and food innovation. These plus the rapid progress in agri-tech have now made it possible to intensify urban food production in a sustainable and climate-resilient way. As urban farms mushroom across our city, there may be hope we can begin to mitigate disruptions and grow closer to our ‘30 by 30’ vision.

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