$165 million funding for R&D to safeguard S’pore’s food security

The funding will go towards projects focusing on the genetics and breeding of agricultural inputs like fish and seeds. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - An additional $165 million in funding will be allocated for research and development (R&D) in areas like improving the disease resistance and nutritional quality of crops and fish, to safeguard Singapore’s food security. 

Announcing this at the Singapore International Agri-food Week’s gala dinner on Wednesday at Gardens by the Bay, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said the second phase of the Republic’s national R&D programme on food will place greater emphasis on addressing food security challenges.

This includes intensifying sustainability and enhancing food safety, especially with the introduction of novel foods like alternative proteins, said the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) in a statement on Wednesday.

The Singapore Food Story R&D Programme was launched in 2019, where $144 million was pumped into R&D in the areas of sustainable urban food production, future foods, and food safety science and innovation. Since then, 40 projects with the potential to transform food production and enhance food security have been given funding, said the SFA.

To stretch the ambition of the Singapore Food Story, an additional $165 million will be added to the programme, said Mr Heng.

The funding will go towards projects focusing on the genetics and breeding of agricultural inputs like fish and seeds, to improve the productivity and nutritional qualities of aquaculture and crops. This will increase their resistance to disease and make them more resilient to climate change, he added.

“Take fish, for example. We are looking to develop superior fingerlings suited for tropical aquaculture that can contribute to a 30 per cent increase in farming productivity. We are also seeking to reduce fish mortality from common fish diseases from the present 70 to 100 per cent, to between 20 and 50 per cent,” said Mr Heng.

Other areas will involve building new capabilities to expand the foods that local farms are able to produce, which will encompass fruited vegetables such as tomatoes and eggplant as well as crustaceans, moving beyond leafy vegetables, eggs and fish, he added.

As Singapore ventures into the realm of novel food like lab-grown meat, new methods for conducting food safety assessments will be rolled out. This ensures that unexpected hazards in food innovation can be dealt with without requiring lengthy testing, said Mr Heng.

In 2020, Singapore was the first country in the world to grant regulatory approval for the sale of cell-cultured meat, and has also anchored key global players for alternative proteins here, he added.

Mr Heng noted that alternative protein is a promising area that could help Singapore meet its nutrition needs in an urban environment.

Moving forward, to expand the growth of alternative proteins in the region, more needs to be done to improve the taste and colour of these proteins and adapt them to different geographies, he added. 

To this end, Swiss fragrance company Givaudan will be setting up a taste and colour lab to help firms here ensure that their products more closely resemble traditional meats and cater to different taste buds in the region. 

This lab will be at the Food Tech Innovation Centre, a partnership between the Agency for Science, Technology and Research and Nurasa, formerly known as the Asia Sustainable Foods Platform, which is a company under Temasek that aims to scale up the production of alternative proteins and sustainable food.

More information on the second phase of the Singapore Food Story programme will be released next year. 

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