'Grow local' initiative set to expand in Tampines

Community project converts food waste into nutrients for use in vegetable, fish farming

An initiative at Tampines Park to convert food waste into nutrients for use in vegetable and fish farming is set to be extended to other parts of the town.

The produce from the farms is currently undergoing food safety checks, said the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) in response to queries from The Straits Times.

Possible sites at Blocks 106, 270 and 412 are being explored for their suitability, said Tampines Town Council.

Known as Sustainability @ Tampines Park, the community-based initiative is a circular ecosystem with a black soldier fly facility, a vertical high-tech farm for vegetables such as lettuce and nai bai, as well as a tilapia fish farm.

Residents can contribute their food waste to the black soldier fly facility, where the insect larvae act as a decomposer and break down the food into frass, which can be used as a fertiliser for leafy greens at the vegetable farm.

The insect larvae - being a good source of protein nutrients - can then be fed to the tilapia.

The project, launched in December last year, is a collaboration between Tampines Town Council, SFA, sustainable technology firm Netatech, environmental consultancy Otolith Enrichment and the Tampines Residents' Network.

SFA said the project highlights its "Grow Local" food basket, as part of its strategies to avail more space in land-scarce Singapore for food farming.

This move comes amid Singapore's goals to produce more food locally - 30 per cent by 2030 - to boost its food security, and to cut waste to extend the lifespan of the Semakau Landfill.

It said the feedback from residents has been encouraging so far and that Tampines Town Council is planning to extend the project to other parts of the town as part of its efforts to build Tampines into a model eco-town by 2025.

Madam Lau Soo Peng, 59, who is the site's facility manager, said that many residents have made it a habit to bring their food waste for recycling on a regular basis.

She added that quite a number of students have also been helping out at the facility as volunteers.

SFA said that trials are ongoing with the respective vendors to ensure that the tilapia and vegetables are safe for consumption.

"We are also assessing other factors such as the feed's nutritional value and the amount required for each feed," it added.

Mr Jonathan Poh, director of Otolith Enrichment, told ST that the food waste undergoes two rounds of checks for mould before it is fed to the black soldier flies.

"Despite the measures put in place, we are unable to tell if food waste is contaminated with heavy metals, toxins, pathogens... This area is covered by SFA, where the black soldier fly larvae, frass and produce (vegetables and fish) are collected for periodic food safety testing," he said.

He added that Otolith's role in the project is as the main facilitator and integrator, where it engages the community through volunteer management and food waste contribution.

Assistant Professor Nalini Puniamoorthy of the National University of Singapore's Department of Biological Sciences said that the project in Tampines currently uses black soldier fly eggs supplied by NUS.

"These flies were locally collected and selectively bred for rearing in urban spaces. Since 2018, they have been 'trained' to convert NUS food waste from residential halls, and are thus generally able to handle the residential food waste in Tampines," she said.

Since the launch of the Tampines project, NUS has supplied approximately 10 million eggs that have been used to help convert over five tonnes of food waste that would have been incinerated otherwise.

"Food safety is dependent on both the substrate (food waste) as well as the flies themselves. The quality of food substrates in Singapore is actually high, which is why it is a shame to lose this nutrient bank to incineration," she added.

Mr Poh said that besides tilapia fish, it is also possible to farm other freshwater species such as the jade perch, marble goby or even the giant freshwater prawn using the black soldier fly larvae.

Plans are also in the pipeline for Otolith to set up decentralised black soldier fly facilities in areas such as East Coast and Bishan, he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2021, with the headline ''Grow local' initiative set to expand in Tampines'. Subscribe