SINGAPORE - Younger Singaporeans will get more opportunities to develop their green thumb thanks to a slew of efforts by the National Parks Board (NParks) and a large donation from billionaire Peter Lim.
The initiatives are for children from pre-schooling age to young people at institutes of higher learning (IHLs).
For a start, NParks and its partners, including Outward Bound Singapore, will create more opportunities for younger Singaporeans to improve their understanding of greenery and biodiversity.
This includes a new Green Friends Forum to engage young Singaporeans who are interested in greenery and horticulture.
When combined with the existing Biodiversity Friends Forum, it will provide opportunities for youth to undertake community projects relating to biodiversity conservation, animal management and greenery, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Friday (Nov 1) at the opening of the Community Garden Festival 2019 at Jurong Lake Gardens.
There is also the Youth Stewards for Nature programme, which involves tackling challenges in landscape, horticulture and ecology.
For instance, the young could initiate projects to raise awareness on the importance of bees in the ecosystem, deepen social outreach efforts, or discourage feeding of pigeons.
Under this programme, NParks staff and partners will guide and develop the youth in planning and implementing various initiatives.
A $10 million donation by Singapore billionaire Peter Lim to the NParks' Garden City Fund will support students from less privileged backgrounds to participate in the programmes.
The money, which comes from the Peter Lim Horticulture and Animal Science Scholarship, is the single largest donation by an individual to the fund.
Mr Heng noted that participants will get a boost in skills and employability across the horticulture, landscape design, ecology, veterinary and animal sectors.
He said that NParks has also been working together with pre-school operator My First Skool to introduce the Community in Bloom programme at its centres.
It is a nationwide gardening movement that aims to foster a community spirit and bring together residents, both young and old, to enhance Singapore's greenery.
The movement presently has over 1,500 community gardens across Singapore and has engaged close to 36,000 gardening enthusiasts.
By March 2021, pre-schoolers at over 140 My First Skool centres will have the chance to tend gardens in or near their schools, as well as learn about nature and gardening in the classroom, said Mr Heng.
"The Community in Bloom programme is a part of our nation-building effort. It is meaningful and fulfilling for a growing number of gardening enthusiasts," he added.
Primary and secondary school students will also get to grow their own plants in dedicated green spaces within the school compound under a separate Greening Schools for Biodiversity programme.
In addition to attracting more birds and butterflies to school campuses, students will learn about teamwork and responsibility, and develop a deeper sense of ownership for Singapore as a city in a garden, said Mr Heng.
He added that the formal education curriculum in IHLs would be enhanced, allowing students in certain courses to get hands-on experience through internships and student-run parks, such as Bedok Town Park.
Enhanced landscape-related courses, internships, as well as Work Skills Qualifications and professional certification will also be available for students, to help cultivate the next generation of professionals in the landscape, horticulture and ecology sector.
Speaking at Jurong Lake Gardens, the largest site for allotment gardening in Singapore, Mr Heng noted how far the Republic has come in its community gardening efforts.
He cited the example of the Community in Bloom programme.
It has grown from one small, experimental garden in Bukit Timah 14 years ago to around 36,000 gardening enthusiasts taking care of 1,500 community gardens all across the island.
Mr Heng said that NParks has been exploring ways to expand the variety of ornamental and edible plants in community gardens across Singapore.
Since the start of this year, its officers have planted over 75 plant species and cultivars at HortPark including the edamame bean, red radish and the Japanese sweet potato.
"I am particularly excited about the effort to cultivate new edible plants, because this supports our strategy to strengthen Singapore's food resilience," said Mr Heng.
He added that there is "great potential" for urban farming in Singapore, not only in strengthening food resilience, but also as a potential new area of economic growth.
He said: "As we care for the environment and develop an even more liveable city, we are also seeing the enterprising spirit of our people, to do this sustainably.
"This is the spirit of our Singapore Together movement, where each of us contributes to nation building in our own way, planting the seeds for Singapore's growth, improving our environment, and making our city more liveable and more beautiful for everyone."