In land-scarce Singapore, finding space to farm can be challenging. To meet the nation’s “30 by 30” goal to grow 30% of food produce locally by 2030, urban farmers are looking indoors for solutions.
A pinprick on the world map with just 720 km2 of land space, Singapore is one of the smallest yet most densely populated countries in the world. Tinier still is the land designated for agriculture, which is just shy of 1% of the total land area. If the area is a single plot of land, it will take four rounds to complete a marathon around the perimeter. So how does Singapore manage to feed a growing nation on such a little plot of arable land?
For the most part, more than 90% of the food consumed are imported. And to ensure an ample and uninterrupted supply chain, Singapore has diversified its food sources internationally. While this strategy has worked well over the years, it became apparent that to manage market uncertainties more effectively, Singapore would need to increase local food production capabilities sufficiently to buffer the food supply in the event of major supply chain disruptions or food shortages, as was the case during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To strengthen Singapore’s food security, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) has set out in 2019 to raise local food production from the current 10% to 30% by 2030, without increasing agricultural land. To meet this tall order for more productive land use will require farming to be done differently and sustainably.
Many industry players and agri-tech start-ups have responded to the call to ramp up local food production with innovative technologies ranging from sophisticated agri-tech and microbiological R&D to resource-efficient urban farm engineering and rooftop farming systems. Among them are three highly innovative companies, VertiVegies, Sophie’s BioNutrients and Precede.
As an indoor farm and agri-tech solutions company headquartered in Singapore, VertiVegies is committed to “Farming Fresher Futures”. It is a mission that encapsulates making positive impacts by connecting people to food and Nature through sustainable urban food production and community well-being; and one that resonates with Singapore’s 30 by 30 goal on many levels.
“We are very excited to be a part of Singapore’s 30 by 30 vision!” Ankesh Shahra, CEO & Co-Owner of VertiVegies, said. “Our expertise in agronomy and plant sciences, as well as wide access to global agri-food technologies, can certainly help to scale Singapore’s food production in the short term and contribute to the broader agricultural research and innovation landscape for the long haul.
Through controlled environment agriculture, VertiVegies no longer has to depend on external factors, like sunlight, water and soil, for food production. They have unlocked the potential of indoor food production using LED and hydroponic techniques to grow a wide range of produce, including Asian Greens, Western Greens and baby leaves. Crops farmed this way are not only safer, fresher and completely free of pesticides, but available throughout the year.
“Our cutting-edge hydroponic multi-layered vertical grow modules can optimise plant growth by closing the hydro-nutrition loop and recirculating nutrient-infused water to boost plant growth. Key data points on environmental variables along the farming life cycle are logged and analysed to determine the optimal growth condition for each crop,” Ankesh elaborated.
“I must particularly commend the team at CapitaLand who has been most helpful and patient in showing us a range of property options. We eventually decided on the Cavendish for its many physical and intangible benefits, including foremost securing CapitaLand as our long-term space partner. We value having such a supportive and reliable partner who not only shares our vision in sustainable food production but is able to meet our growing needs.”
“It also helped that we have found a conducive space in The Cavendish to house our research, consumer engagement, education, and training activities.” Ankesh added. “Being located next to our R&D partners, NUS Enterprise and NUS Agritech Centre, makes it very convenient for both teams to collaborate and share ideas. The network of like-minded partners in the Singapore Science Park (SSP) cluster also offers new opportunities for partnership and innovation. We also liked that our new office came fitted so we could save on renovation costs and time, and move in readily."
At the other end of SSP, Sophie’s BioNutrients has also just settled into its new home at The Gemini, where they are now busy brewing the future of plant-based protein using microalgae and bioreactors.
On moving into their new home, Eugene Wang, co-founder and CEO, piped, “It was love at first sight. The boiler room at the back of the building made the perfect spot for building our factory to ferment microalgae as an alternative protein source. And what’s not to like about the high office ceiling and being in the heart of Singapore’s R&D scene? There is plenty of adjacent land space which will give us flexibility for future expansion. The ecosystem is another plus factor as most of our customers and collaborators are located in SSP.”
“CapitaLand has helped us tremendously in narrowing down our search for a location for our factory based on our list of criteria. They also relieved a lot of our workload by helping us obtain the onsite food manufacturing permit from SFA and settling in. The entire onboarding process was a breeze for us.”
As Singapore’s first food tech company using microalgae and bioreactors to produce plant-based proteins, Sophie’s Bionutrients can now produce 20 tonnes of protein flour every month. That is the equivalent of more than 20 tonnes of beef proteins. Given more resources, Eugene was confident that Sophie’s Bionutrients could not only meet Singapore’s 30 by 30 goal but solve some of the world’s food security challenges.
“In using microalgae, we have found a way to get nutrients out of the ocean without taking any lives,” he elaborated. “Compared with conventional farming, our technologies do not require massive farmland. For example, growing a tonne of beef protein requires some 140 hectares of land for grazing. The same quantity of protein using our technology requires just 0.02 hectares. That’s the size of half a basketball court!”
Eugene added, “Very importantly, we don’t use any herbicide, fertiliser, antibiotics or growth hormone, and 90% of the water used is recycled. The finished product is a complete protein with all the essential amino acids and Vitamin B group and no known allergens. Whichever way you look at it, it is a far superior technology compared with current solutions. Our plan is to expand our footprints into Europe, North America and the rest of the world from our first factory in The Gemini.”
Several agri-tech companies have chosen to set up their farming operations in industrial space too. Among them is Precede, a small-scale indoor vertical farm specialising both in greens for daily consumption as well as uncommon seasonal produce. Contributing to Singapore’s 30 by 30 vision, their expansive varieties of leafy greens and herbs are not just delivered at their peak flavours within a few short hours of harvest, but also pesticide- and fungicide-free – all grown with quality seeds, soil, nutrition and a carefully-curated climate.
All this achieved within a 1,500 sq ft industrial space nestled in the Ang Mo Kio neighbourhood. Setting up shop in cost-effective industrial developments like Techplace II is highly advantageous to these indoor farms, who seek conducive workspace specifications such as large regular floor plates accommodating flexible space planning and potential growth plans, as well as sufficient floor loading for their farming operations.
Precede currently has sizeable expansion plans in mind, both in scale and varieties.
With all urban farmers and agri-techies working to reengineer Singapore’s new farming landscape, the rest of us as consumers can also play our part in the 30 by 30 goal by buying local. Who knows? It may not be long before you will find an urban farm in a CapitaLand building near you.
Looking for suitable spaces for your agri-tech and food production needs? CapitaLand has a wide portfolio of assets with different specifications to cater to varied business demands. Contact us today to find out more.