SINGAPORE - Local farmers from across the island are, for the first time, banding together to improve the small but important agriculture sector in Singapore.
Twenty farms from the livestock, food fish and vegetable sectors have come together to form a farming federation known as the Singapore Agro-Food Enterprises (Safef), it was announced on Thursday (Oct 26).
There is another farming coalition, the Kranji Countryside Association, which was formed in 2005 to look after the interests of agribusinesses clustered in Singapore's rural north-west.
But the new federation is an organisation formed to represent and promote agri-food enterprises from all across Singapore.
Safef member farms include egg farm Seng Choon Farm, Rong-Yao Fisheries and vegetable farm Sustenir Agriculture (Singapore).
The federation will work with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), as well as research institutions and institutes of higher learning, on various initiatives.
The federation has four main priorities, a number of which are centred on Singapore's recent push for farms to go high-tech. They are: the setting of standards among farms; boosting productivity and lowering cost; building capacity and developing manpower. The federation also aims to promote local produce among consumers here.
The setting of standards is important for ensuring food safety, especially with new farming types coming up, said Marine Life Aquaculture's Frank Tan during a visit to Sustenir's Admiralty premises on Thursday. Mr Tan is a founding member of the Safef.
A voluntary scheme called the Good Agricultural Practice - a set of farming processes and management practices for the production of safe and quality farm produce - has already been introduced by the AVA for outdoor vegetables in 2004 and for coastal fish farms in 2014. There is also a similar scheme for egg farms, put in place in 1999.
Farms which have been certified under the Good Agricultural Practice scheme will get to carry a logo on their products.
But with the move towards more productive, high-tech forms of farming in land-scarce Singapore, there is a need for the federation to work with the authorities to come up with similar schemes for land-based food fish farming and indoor vegetable farming, said Mr Tan.
Senior Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon, who is in charge of farming issues, told the media at Sustenir on Thursday that Singapore already has measures in place to ensure the safety of produce from all farms. But a voluntary scheme could help raise safety standards for the entire industry and improve Singapore's brand name, he said.
On boosting productivity and building capacity, the federation said in a statement that it hopes infrastructure can be built to help farms share resources, such as cold rooms or packaging areas, and to conduct technology sourcing trips abroad. The sharing of resources will help to reduce capital investments for individual farms and lower operating costs, it added.
There are more than 200 food farms in Singapore, producing less than 10 per cent of Singapore's total food demand. Though small, the local agriculture sector is still an important pillar of Singapore's food security strategy, especially with climate change wreaking havoc on global food supplies. But with agricultural land shrinking, the hope is that farms step up productivity by making use of technology.
On whether the 20 member farms - just 10 per cent of the total number of food farms here - will be able to make an impact in helping to ensure Singapore's food security, Mr Tan says he is confident that they will be able to.
This is because the federation's 20 member farms produce a large proportion of the current food supply, he added.
The four hen and quail egg farms in the federation, for instance, produce almost 100 per cent of locally produced eggs here, while the six fish farms in the group produce some 70 per cent of fish produced in Singapore, said Mr Tan. The 10 vegetable growers which are part of the federation produce 50 per cent of locally produced vegetables.
"The federation is not a big boys' club. We want to help the other farms also, by conducting talks, sharing best practices, to increase the standard of farming so we can produce safe food, and increase food productivity. So local farms play a major role in food security," said Mr Tan.
The federation also wants to boost local demand for home-grown produce here, by working with AVA to carry out regular farmers' markets, for instance. The federation is also working on a made-in-Singapore logo that could help consumers easily identify locally grown produce, similar to a labelling scheme in Norway.
Dr Koh, who is the honorary adviser to the new farming federation, urged Singaporeans to buy local, saying that doing so could help reduce the carbon footprint from importing goods, and support local farmers keen on expanding production. They can also be assured that food produced here is safe and fresh, he said.
"Here, the AVA has control over the quality of the produce, so consumers can also look forward to fresher and safer food produce," said Dr Koh.