Food sustainability has long been a hot-button topic for Singapore, and there has been a greater push for Singapore to inch toward self-sustainability.

As a Farm Manager in Archisen, a local urban agritech farm, we’ve seen the changes in Singapore’s agriculture landscape firsthand. We’ve had to experiment with many new ideas and concepts, build teams, optimize yield productivity, and implement new innovations – all to keep up with the increasing importance of food security in Singapore.

The current agricultural landscape

Agriculture has been a crucible of evolutionary change over the years. Despite being ranked the most food-secure country in the world, The Singapore Food Agency reports that the country imports over 90 percent of its domestic food consumption.

As a result, this leaves the bulk of our food supply dependent on unpredictable factors such as climate change, political unrest, or economic shifts.

In the current agriculture landscape in Singapore, I feel that urban farms have their own set of unique challenges, and we do have a fair share of implications from these price hikes, such as rising costs of raw materials and energy.

The confluence of technology, engineering, design, and farming has set the stage for a transformation in urban farming. Amidst growing realization that food security is an existential issue to contend with, SFA unveiled their ‘30 by 30 vision’ in early 2020, which aims to locally produce 30 percent of the country’s nutritional needs by 2030.

Leading the Farm Operations at Archisen, it is my responsibility to ensure that Archisen is actively developing new technologies and solutions to optimize how Urban Farms are operating and to change people’s perceptions towards them.

The Singapore government has enhanced the Agriculture Productivity Fund and pushed out the 30×30 Express Grant to support producers looking to use technology to grow more with less. These recently introduced policies reflect the government’s interest in moving Singapore towards becoming a more self-reliant and food-secure society.

With support from the government, Archisen is playing its part in spearheading the Singapore Green Plan 2030 along with all other local farms.

Despite the government’s efforts to move towards self-sustenance, the lack of popular demand for local products presents a pressing issue today. Without sufficient consumers ‘buying local’, there could be a surplus in production and, subsequently, more food wastage.

Consumers do not tend to actively source locally produced food, especially if it is not certified as ‘locally grown’ or ‘organic’ and placed at eye level on supermarket shelves. Local producers not knowing the right kinds of vegetables consumed by the bulk of the people might also be a contributing factor to the issue of low demand.

Apart from that, one major problem we face in this industry is the lack of manpower. This industry requires a passion for farming which often demands a lot of hard work, and this sometimes demotivates potential applicants.

On the whole, it is technically difficult to grow popular local varieties at competitive rates, and many farms may choose to specialize in less popular leafy greens. Hence, it is crucial that we balance local vegetable supply with an array of different options which can help to reduce waste.

What the future of Singapore’s agricultural landscape looks like

There are still areas that we do not know well enough in the field. In many situations, ready solutions are unavailable, and we must attempt to innovate to solve our problems. However, this also provides many opportunities for development and collaboration.

In 2021, a $60 million Agricultural Food Transformation Fund was announced, aimed at increasing production efficiency, boosting yield, enhancing productivity and sustainability, and improving circularity of resource use while reducing the reliance on manpower. Such initiatives could help propel the industry towards integrated growth systems, automation, and robotics to solve some of their growing problems.

I can envision the continuous development of CEA to efficiently produce more crops that are difficult to flourish in harsh external environments and provide more varieties and cheaper prices for consumers in Singapore.

Apart from greater varieties, There would also be 10 to 15 times more vegetables and fish produced, growing up to half a million kilograms of fresh vegetables each year, mitigating the problem of food insecurity.

To date, there are 238 local urban farms selling produce in supermarkets around Singapore. And this number will grow in the years to come. With a growing supply, an exponential increase in demand for local produce should be expected.

Fortunately, with Singaporeans becoming more environmentally conscious, this shift in mindset will hopefully spur Singaporeans to put sustainability needs over their money-mindedness and support local agriculture.

Zhi Heng Kwek is Farm Manager at Archisen, a Singapore-based agritech company that designs, builds, and operates solutions to grow ultra-fresh, ultra-local produce in cities. Archisen grows and provides fresh produce to leading retailers, under its flagship brand, Just Produce.

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This article was originally published on e27 and was submitted to TechNode Global as an editorial contribution.

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