The Rise Of Food Technology in Singapore
Places of growth and sustenance are the foundation of a country’s well being. For example, all you need to take is a few hours drive to visit places of agriculture in most countries. However, This is not the case for Singapore. With its ever-decreasing land space, there is an urgent need for independence for food in times of need. Indeed, with the COVID-19 restrictions, it became even tougher trying to import basic food items. While Singapore lacks the space to grow supplies, it has the strength and space to help startups use Food tech.
Hence, to push startups forward, the Government has adopted the “30 by 30” strategy,where Singapore’s food self-production level from the current 10 per cent has to grow to 30 per cent of total food needs by 2030.
The reasoning behind this goal is through a study conducted by The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In summary, the study concluded that crop yields will most likely decline by up to a quarter by 2050 due to global warming. To prevent Singapore from being impacted heavily, it is growing it’s food technology ecosystem with financial and non-financial backing to give homegrown talent the boost it needs.
What is Food Tech?
Food tech is an upcoming industry, where companies use modern technologies to increase food supply through sustainable methods. According to consultancy firm Frost and Sullivan, the global smart agri-tech market generated US$4.5 billion (S$6.1 billion) in 2015 and is estimated to reach US$9 billion (S$12.2 billion) in 2020. Indeed, Temasek Holdings, Singapore’s state investment firm has invested about US$5 Billion (SG$6.9 Billion) in this sector for the past five years.
Hence, minimising land space, being environmentally friendly and maximising outputs are important in growing this industry.
Examples of Food Tech
Food tech encompasses any kind of technological innovation that helps in agricultural growth. Some of the examples described below are some of the ways Singapore is using to maximise limited land space and output.
An example of food tech is vertical farming. With minimal space, one solution for future crop production is to have crops growing “upwards”. This concept was first developed built in Singapore in 2012.
For instance, there are two categories to vertical farms: hydroponics and aeroponics. Hydroponics refers to the technique of growing plants without soil. Aeroponics refers to the technique of misting a liquid solution of nutrients into plants through air chambers. For both categories, neither requires any soil nor does it require much water usage. It’s environmentally friendly as vertical farming massively reduces the number of fossil fuels needed for farming equipment.
As such, vertical farming is suited to Singapore with its minimal physical ground space and all-year-round farming.
Recirculating Aquaculture System
Recirculating Aquaculture System is trending in Singapore for fish production. This system is a highly automated indoor fish farming system, where cultured water is purified and reused continuously to grow fish.
Cultured water is continuously treated and purified to get rid of waste products. Examples of such waste products can include solid waste, ammonium and CO2. Firstly, waste products are removed or converted into non-toxic products by the system components. Then, the water is saturated with oxygen and returned to the fish tanks. By recirculating the water, water and energy requirements are limited to an absolute minimum.
On the whole, Recirculating Aquaculture System is suited to Singapore as fishes are protected against environmental conditions, and space is optimised by having multi-levelled tanks.
What is Singapore doing to help?
There are two ways Singapore is approaching this sector to ensure it’s future. First is through accelerator programs, and secondly is through its new agency: Singapore Food Authority.
Singapore has been pushing for accelerator programs to build food tech startups to greater heights. Accelerator programs, by definition, are intensive business support for startups. Singapore’s business agency Enterprise Singapore and the Economic Development Board have partnered to build these platforms.
For example, GROW Accelerator initiative is a joint venture developed by AgFunder and Rocket Seeder, an agrifood accelerator. GROW Accelerator is a 12-week intensive program that gives up to US$120,000 in equity funding. Besides this, the program provides high-performance coaching and access to experts, test labs and deep-tech expertise.
SEEDS Capital is an initiative created by Enterprise Singapore. Its intentions and structure are similar to GROW Accelerator. SEEDS Capital partners startups with their own partners to commercialise and expand globally, using the partner’s strategic network. There is an SG$2 million investment cap and a 7:3 co-investment ratio for start-ups.
Singapore Food Authority
The agency, the Singapore Food Authority (SFA) was established in 2019. The goal of SFA is to ensure food security and the “30 by 30” goals are being met. To achieve such goals, the agency began with three tasks in mind to follow.
Diversify Import Sources
Import sources are defined as the countries that Singapore imports from in terms of food items. Thus, to ensure Singapore does not run out of food at crucial periods, SFA is tasked to diversify it’s import sources. Diversifying is important as Singapore heavily relies on imports.
Hence, to diversify its sources, SFA works with more overseas governments on agreements for imports. For example, there was an increase from 140 import countries in 2004 to over 170 countries in 2019. The more extensive the network, the more likely we have supplies in any crisis.
Grow More with Less, Sustainably
To achieve the “30 by 30” goal, SFA works with the food tech sector to push for more innovations and better productivity. To do so, SFA will help to fund such innovative changes and tender land to companies who compete based on technology, productivity and track record. For example, The Lim Chu Kang area is being planned and redeveloped to have centralised facilities and services. Centralised facilities and services will allow a reduction in costs.
Firstly, for fish production, the authority is accessing the potential environmental impact of farming activities in the Southern Waters sites. They are engaging with nature groups on local fish production while mitigating the impact on the marine environment.
Secondly, for Vertical Farming, SFA has successfully launched a pilot project to carry out commercial vertical farming on the rooftop of an HDB multi-storey car-park. This project will bring farming closer to Singaporeans and teaches them the importance of food tech.
To conclude, The food-tech industry is developing, and it is slowly becoming more and more important as time goes on. Singapore needs local resources, and with our ever-shrinking land space and climate, we need to think differently about how we want to grow our food. This industry is the way to go. With that in mind, Do you think we will succeed by 2030?
We hope it does.