Our Food Story

We have come a long way in our food story. In the 1960s, 9% of Singapore’s population was involved in farming activities, and local produce was sufficient for the local population. We used to grow many things, rubber, fruit trees, even poultry, pork and cattle. However, with industrialisation in the 1970s, many farms were phased out, and Singapore shifted its focus to growing 3 main food items – eggs, leafy vegetables, and fish[1,2].

Today, we take for granted that there will always be food on our table, and it’s true. In 2019, Singapore was ranked as the most food-secure country in the world[3]. Thanks to our diversification efforts, importing food from over 170 countries in 2019[4], we are able to ensure a constant influx of food into our markets. Even if one source faces a shortage, we can always turn to another source to keep our food supply stable.

Image Source

While Singaporeans know that most of our food is imported, we would never think that one day, that secure supply of food will ever be threatened. That fear, however, came true. On 17th March 2020, Malaysia announced that they will implement a Movement Control Order to control the transmission of COVID-19. Out of fear that Singapore will run out of food as there are import restrictions, many Singaporeans flocked to supermarkets to stock up on supplies, the second time this has happened after the raising of Singapore’s alert level to DORSCON Orange on 7th February.

It seems apt then that a few days before, on 7th March, Singapore announced the “30 by 30” goal – producing 30% of Singapore’s nutritional needs locally by 2030. This is as part of efforts to bolster one of Singapore’s 3 Food Baskets[5] (a concept similar to the 4 National Taps). To achieve this, Singapore has taken the R&D route, to develop and innovate technological solutions to increase our yield within our small land area. In other words, we are trying to produce more with less.

The 3 Food Baskets. The 30 by 30 goal is to bolster our second Food Basket – Grow Local

Image Source: Singapore Food Agency[5]

Singapore is limited in both its land area and climate. With a small area to balance between different land uses, there isn’t much land to set aside for traditional soil-based farming. To solve this, we took to the sky and developed vertical farming technologies to grow more on the same plot of land. We took advantage of unconventional spaces such as carpark rooftops and converted them into areas for urban farms. Some companies even rented spaces in industrial buildings and set up indoor farms.

Sustenir Strawberries being sold in local supermarkets.

Image Source: TODAY[6]

Indoor farms provide another benefit and that is the ability to control the climate of the area. In tropical Singapore, we are limited in what crops we can grow. By controlling the climate to mimic other climates, we can grow crops that are not otherwise possible. One example is Sustenir, an indoor farm that went famous with their ability to grow non-native crops such as strawberries in Singapore[6]. These strawberries have even been sold in our supermarkets, highlighting the potential of such technologies to produce on a commercial level.

Technologies don’t just work for vegetables; they work for fish too! While there is vertical farming for vegetables, the same concept has been applied to aquaculture. Since 2015, Apollo Aquaculture Group has established a vertical fish farm, employing a Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS) to not only allow fish to be grown on land but also reduce overall consumption of water. Simply put, the RAS pumps water and the wastes from the fish out of the tank, followed by filtering, disinfecting, and oxygenating it before pumping it back into the tank. By using RAS, the water conditions such as temperature can be controlled easily, and it is easier to ensure ideal conditions for the fish to grow. Right now, Apollo Aquaculture is awaiting the completion of their 8-storey vertical fish farm in 2023, which is expected to produce 2700 tonnes of fish annually[7].

Apollo Aquaculture Fish Farm. Image Source: Singapore Food Agency[7]

Singapore is also surrounded by sea, and it would make perfect sense if we can use it to help produce more food. Instead of fishing directly from the sea like the old days, the use of technology has enabled us to control environmental conditions, even out at sea. This is done through the use of closed containment aquaculture systems, such as those employed by Eco-Ark. The floating high-tech farm is located off the coast of Changi and treats water drawn from the sea before pumping them into 4 large tanks containing 30000 to 80000 fishes. As it is a closed-containment farm, it is also able to regulate the conditions of the water to provide ideal growth for the fishes[8].

Eco-Ark Floating Fish Farm. Image Source

While all Singaporeans know that Singapore has farms, I don’t think any of us ever thought that farming will gain traction again since the urbanisation of Singapore. Realistically speaking, at least in the foreseeable future, Singapore may never become 100% self-sufficient in terms of our food supply. There is a limit to how much higher we can build, how much indoor or unconventional spaces we can convert, and how much water surface we can cover. Nevertheless, the 30 by 30 goal is reasonable, and with the development of technology, it seems highly likely that we will be able to attain that goal. Singapore hopes to one day be a globally-recognised leader in sustainable urban food solutions[9]. If anything, I believe that Singapore can do it. It’s just a matter of when.

Written by Ernest

References:

[1] Singapore Food Agency. (2020, February 27). SG50 Special: Singapore’s Food Farms – A Story of Then and Now. Food for Thought. https://www.sfa.gov.sg/food-for-thought/article/detail/sg50-special-singapore’s-food-farms—a-story-of-then-and-now

[2] Choo, C. (2019, February 24). Singapore’s farming revival: “Tech is the only way to go.” TODAY. https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/super-fish-speedy-rice-singapores-farming-revival

[3] The Economist Intelligence Unit. (2020). Ranking and Trends. Global Food Security Index. https://foodsecurityindex.eiu.com/Index

[4] Singapore Food Agency. (2020, July 27). Diversify Import Sources. https://www.sfa.gov.sg/food-farming/sgfoodstory/diversification-of-import-sources

[5] Singapore Food Agency. (2020, August 13). Our Singapore Food Story – The 3 Food Baskets. https://www.sfa.gov.sg/food-farming/sgfoodstory

[6] Loh, V. (2018, June 20). Coming to a supermarket near you: Made-in-Singapore strawberries. TODAY. https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/coming-supermarket-near-you-made-singapore-strawberries

[7] Singapore Food Agency. (2020d, August 21). A bright new dawn at Apollo Fish Farm | SFA. https://www.sfa.gov.sg/fromSGtoSG/farms/farm/Detail/apollo-aquaculture-group

[8] Co, C. (2019, November 19). New offshore fish farm to yield up to 20 times more fish than other coastal farms. CNA. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/new-offshore-fish-farm-to-yield-up-to-20-times-more-fish-than-12107288

[9] Singapore Food Agency. (2020b, April 16). Singapore Food Story R&D Programme. https://www.sfa.gov.sg/food-farming/singapore-food-story

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