Alternative solutions needed to build food security

Traditional open-land agriculture is a luxury that Singapore can ill-afford. In our latest attempt to address food security issues, the authorities are releasing 60ha of agricultural land, with strong emphasis on high-tech farming methods.

In land-scarce Singapore, the only way to utilise land efficiently is to go either skywards or underground.

While the agro-tech industry has received much fanfare in recent years, it does not make sense for commercial farmers to adopt most of these technologies due to unit economics (Effort needed for high-rise farms exceed returns, by Dr Yik Keng Yeong; May 22).

Currently, there exist two approaches towards agro-tech leafy vegetable cultivation here.

One is pioneered by Sky Greens Singapore - utilising a modified A-frame structure to vertically grow greens that are suitable to cultivate locally.

The other is pioneered by Panasonic and Sustenir Agriculture - operating smaller commercial indoor climate-controlled vertical farms for cold weather crops (such as lettuce, kale, arugula and pea shoots).

However, to allocate more land and resources to high-tech farming requires extremely high capital investment. This translates to higher food prices for consumers, as investors are forced to recoup their outlay by pricing their produce closely to the price of imports.

The battle is not lost. Current technology has evolved to allow Singaporeans to take part in the effort to farm vertically at home at an affordable price.

Utilising 4 sq ft of space, an indoor climate-controlled cultivator (akin to a wine fridge) is capable of growing up to 50kg of pesticide-free vegetables and herbs in a year.

With more than 900,000 households in Singapore, that translates to an annual production capacity of 45 million kg or nearly half of our leafy vegetable imports.

With the expiry of the leases of 62 local commercial farms by the end of 2019, it is timely to explore the feasibility of creating a new generation of home-based micro-farms.

Lester Chan Quan Xin

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2017, with the headline 'Alternative solutions needed to build food security'. Print Edition | Subscribe