Budget 2021: New $60m agri-food cluster transformation fund to boost local production through technology

Eco-Ark is a floating fish farm built with funding support from the Agriculture Productivity Fund. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Some $60 million will be set aside for a new fund to help farmers better harness technology in local food production, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Tuesday (Feb 16).

"Technology is (a) game changer and will open new possibilities. We harnessed technology to overcome our water and land constraints, and will do the same for climate change," he said.

The symptoms of climate change include more frequent extreme weather events, which could disrupt global supply chains and threaten global food production.

But the use of technology could cushion the agriculture sector from erratic rainfall patterns and climbing temperatures.

The new fund, called the Agri-Food Cluster Transformation Fund, will replace the existing Agriculture Productivity Fund, said Mr Heng, who is also the Finance Minister.

The Agriculture Productivity Fund is administered by the Singapore Food Agency and was set up in 2014 to help farmers boost yields and increase production capabilities.

More details on the new fund will be announced by the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) during the debate on its budget, said Mr Heng.

The Singapore Food Agency is an agency under MSE.

In his speech, Mr Heng cited Eco-Ark, a high-tech fish farm off the Changi coast.

Eco-Ark is a floating fish farm built by the Aquaculture Centre of Excellence with funding support from the Agriculture Productivity Fund.

"With advanced aquaculture technologies, Eco-Ark is able to produce 20 times more output than the average in coastal fish farms. This improves our food resilience, as part of the 30-by-30 goal," Mr Heng said.

This 30-by-30 goal refers to Singapore's target to produce 30 per cent of its nutritional needs through locally farmed food by 2030 - up from less than 10 per cent today.

The offshore farm, with a total capacity of 96 tonnes, is able to produce 166 tonnes of fish a year. PHOTO: ST FILE
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The offshore farm, with a total capacity of 96 tonnes, is able to produce 166 tonnes of fish a year - about 20 times more than the minimum level set for coastal fish farms in Singapore.

Unlike a typical kelong where fish are reared in open net cage farming systems exposed to the open sea, the fish in Eco-Ark swim in tanks isolated from the currents.

This means the fish - which include species such as barramundi, red snapper fingerlings and groupers - are safe from threats that those reared in kelongs are vulnerable to. These include oil spill incidents as well as plankton blooms, which caused massive fish deaths in 2014 and 2015 due to the depletion of oxygen in the water.

Noting that sustainability is a journey, not a destination, and that technology would advance over time, Mr Heng said: "Costs and benefits of projects will change, as climate cost is factored in and as technology advances.

"We must continue to stay open and adaptive, and carefully balance our development objectives with sustainability considerations."

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