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Why It Matters

Helping farmers maximise yields

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) announced last Thursday that all new agricultural land will now be tendered on a 20-year lease instead of a 10-year period.

The change was made after farmers said that a decade-long tenure, with a possible 10-year extension, was too short to reap the fruits of investing in automation, explained an AVA spokesman.

The Government's new decision is meant to encourage farmers to think long-term and, hopefully, loosen their purse strings to invest in high-tech techniques such as vertical farming.

With the change, it also wants to reassure farmers that Singapore is committed to food security. More than 90 per cent of food here is imported.

In land-scarce Singapore, maximising yield from each inch of soil is important. With automation, farmers could use less manpower to produce more fruit, vegetables or eggs.

For example, high-tech vertical farming allows vegetable farmers to grow produce under calibrated light, temperature and humidity conditions and for vegetables to grow in stacked racks.

Last Thursday, it was also announced that 62 farms affected by the Government's initial decision to not renew their leases would be given extensions of 2 1/2 years.

Their current leases were set to expire by June next year, but they are now given until 2019 before they have to make room for the Defence Ministry's new training grounds. The land given to Mindef previously had been taken over for the development of Tengah New Town.

But farmers said that they needed more information before they would bid for the new plots of land. They want to know the size of plots up for tender, whether farmers who are affected by the changes in Lim Chu Kang would be given priority in the bidding process or even the type of soil they would be working on.

So AVA's move is one in the right direction. But certainly, more can be done.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2016, with the headline 'Helping farmers maximise yields'. Print Edition | Subscribe