A plot of land equivalent to 33 football fields in size will serve as Singapore's farming hothouse, as the country seeks to develop and export know-how in the emerging agricultural technology sector.
The 18ha set aside for the Agri-Food Innovation Park at Sungei Kadut seeks to bring together a range of high-tech farming and research and development (R&D) activities, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon told Parliament yesterday.
The park will have indoor plant factories, insect farms and animal feed production facilities, and agencies are working with local and overseas industry leaders to develop its first phase, which should be ready from the second quarter of 2021.
"Our vision is for Singapore to be a leading urban agriculture and aquaculture technology hub with a food production model that can be exported to the region," Dr Koh said during the debate on the Trade and Industry Ministry's budget.
Singapore has also been looking at ways to improve food security.
The agri-tech hub's strategic location, with existing farms in Lim Chu Kang and Sungei Tengah to the west and Senoko Food Zone to the east, will form part of a larger northern agri-tech and food corridor set aside for food-related industries.
It will have space to expand to cater for growth, the ministry said.
Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) had asked about Singapore's plans to develop the food and agri-tech sector, noting that the global food and agri-tech industry, worth some $5 trillion, is growing rapidly.
In January, Seeds Capital, the investment arm of trade agency Enterprise Singapore, appointed seven co-investment partners to channel over $90 million in investments to develop Singapore-based start-ups in the agri-tech sector.
Yesterday, Dr Koh said the sector's growth is fuelled by new innovations in processes and products. Singapore's good innovation climate, strong talent base, reputation for food safety and strategic location puts it in good stead to capture a slice of this industry, particularly in Asia.
Dr Koh added that beyond the hardware and infrastructure, a pipeline of talent is also important for Singapore's plans on this front.
He was thus heartened that more Singaporeans - especially young people - are showing interest in high-tech urban farming. A new generation of technopreneur farmers is emerging, and Dr Koh expects institutes of higher learning to introduce more courses to equip people with relevant skills for the sector.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat had, in his Budget speech, said Temasek Polytechnic would launch an aquaculture innovation centre.
Such developments, Dr Koh said, will support Singapore's agri-tech sector in becoming an export industry. "Our position as an agri-tech hub will strengthen Singapore's economy, create good jobs for locals and buttress the Republic's food security."
Singapore can also contribute urban farming solutions to cities in the region, such as in fish and shrimp feed and controlled environment systems, he added.
Meanwhile, more home-grown agriculture companies are being helped to expand abroad, he added, citing start-up Sustenir's plans to grow in Hong Kong. The company specialises in growing non-native plants like strawberries locally.
The plan for an agri-tech hub was welcomed by urban farmers, who hailed it as an important investment in the local farming industry.
Comcrop founder Allan Lim said: "This is a good move, primarily because all kinds of agri-tech can be in one place. We can then tap into global tech and attract global players to place their interest here."
The hub could be "an agri-tech 'village', with everything from how produce is grown, harvested and sent out being integrated in one place", he added.
Dr Koh will lead a multi-agency team to look at better support for the agri-tech industry. It will look at areas such as R&D, manpower and regulatory flexibility, and work closely with industry players to gather feedback.