Temasek in food tech innovation venture with A*Star

There is a need to re-imagine food production by using innovative technologies such as vertical farms to cut land use. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Temasek has signed an agreement with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) to establish the Food Tech Innovation Centre, a facility to accelerate the commercialisation of food technologies.

The state investor said the memorandum of understanding with A*Star is part of a renewed focus on increasing its investments in companies and start-ups at home and across Asia that use innovative technologies to produce food.

The announcement was made at a virtual media briefing on Wednesday, against the backdrop of the Apac Agri-Food Innovation Summit also held online for the first time.

Separately at the summit, Mr Alvin Tan, Minister of State for Trade and Industry, had earlier highlighted Singapore's achievements in realising its ambition to produce as much as 30 per cent of its food needs locally by 2030.

Singapore plans to achieve the goal by supporting local and foreign firms that use indoor growing technologies, such as hydroponics, vertical farming and data analytics, to optimise production.

Temasek has invested more than US$5 billion (S$6.7 billion) in the agri-food space over the past five years, nurturing a portfolio of more than 40 agri-food companies.

But most of the investment is in European and North American firms.

Mr Anuj Maheshwari, Temasek's managing director of agribusiness and Middle East and Africa, said that while Western companies had led the global agri-food sector with technological innovations, Asia is now catching up fast.

"We certainly see a lot more opportunities in Asia than we saw a few years ago," he said, referring to start-ups in the agri-food sector.

Mr Maheshwari added that many larger investors, even bigger than Temasek, are chasing investment opportunities in Asia's agri-food space.

"At one end, we have to grapple with a bigger opportunity set and on the other hand we see more competition. But we are committed to investing in the sector given our focus on not just generating returns but also for a better planet," he said.

Mr Maheshwari added that global food production would have to be increased by 40 per cent to feed a world population set to hit a total of 9.8 billion by 2050, up from 7.7 billion now.

At the same time, agriculture uses 33 per cent of the world's arable land for cattle farms, accounts for about 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and consumes up to 70 per cent of global fresh water. There is a need to re-imagine food production by using innovative technologies such as vertical farms to cut land use, automation to reduce wastage and alternative ways of producing proteins to lower emissions.

Mr Maheshwari also said that global investment in tech-based agri-food start-ups hit US$20 billion last year, up from just US$2 billion in 2013, with the emergence of innovative companies such as Impossible Foods that makes burger patties from plant-based proteins.

Mr Yeoh Keat Chuan, Temasek's senior managing director for enterprise development, said production of plant-based proteins and precision fermentation will be the starting point of the collaboration with A*Star.

He said several companies have shown interest in the Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation, which was set up last year at A*Star to boost local production capabilities of novel food ingredients.

Most of these firms need pilot production of small batches of their products before going commercial, which is what the Food Tech Innovation Centre aims to do.

Beyond sustainable proteins, Temasek will target investments in companies that have innovative ideas for resilient supply chains, affordable nutrition and urban food systems.

Correction note: This story has been edited for clarity.

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