SINGAPORE - Buyers of mini-vegetables from the first vertical farm here can now be assured they were grown without the use of artificial fertilisers or pesticides.
Sky Greens, an urban farm in Lim Chu Kang, has been awarded the world's first national standard for organic vegetables grown in urban environments, developed in Singapore to address key challenges such as limited land, lack of soil and water and higher operating costs from energy consumption and manpower constraints.
Sky Greens received the Singapore Standard 632 (SS 632) for organic primary produce certification from certification body Control Union Certifications on Tuesday (June 11).
The certification was developed by the Singapore Standards Council's Food Standards Committee with the support of Singapore Manufacturing Federation-Standards Development Organisation and Enterprise Singapore.
Urban farms worldwide, including importers, exporters and retailers can apply for the SS 632 certification.
Dr Allan Lim, chairman of the Food Standards Committee, said while the certification would increase consumers' confidence in local produce, it would also give Singapore's agri-food industry a certain level of recognition.
"We aspire to be a leader in the agri-food sector, and we also want to achieve a certain level of self-sustainability. In order to achieve that and for farmers to be competitive, we need standards like this to elevate their image and also make them more competitive internationally.
"The certification may allow local urban farms to expand into markets outside of Singapore. Having a national organic certification will help local urban farms to be on equal footing with the US for instance," said Dr Lim.
Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli, who witnessed the presentation of the certification, noted that the increasing demand for organic food has growth potential for local farms.
"The global organic food and beverage market is expected to grow to US$320 billion by 2025, with the fastest growth anticipated in the Asia Pacific.
"In Singapore growing consumer awareness and the wider availability of organic products have contributed to the increasing demand for organic food," he said.
Mr Masagos also announced that the Singapore Food Agency will be developing "Clean-Green Standards" for urban vegetable farms that adhere to high standards, but are not strictly organic.
"This will recognise farms that produce safe, good quality and nutritious vegetables in a clean, resource-efficient environment with no pesticide use. The standards will be developed with the industry, academics and consumers."
Sky Greens harvests 500 kg of produce such as mini cai xin, jie lan and Chinese cabbage every day that are sold at FairPrice Finest stores.
The farm grows 10 times as many vegetables as traditional farming, using up to 9m-tall tiered towers holding rows of Asian vegetables.
The rotating metal towers housed in glass buildings allow all plants to get a uniform amount of sunlight, so there is no need to use LED lights, as many urban farms do. They are rotated by a water-pulley system, using gravity from collected rainwater, and the same rainwater is used for growing the crops.
The newly certified mini-vegetables that will reach FairPrice Finest shelves from Wednesday (June 12) onwards will cost 50 to 60 per cent more. Currently, 150g of vegetables cost $2.75.
To avoid pesticides, Sky Greens started to produce mini-vegetables in 2017. Normal-sized vegetables take 40 days to mature, but the vegetables at the farm are harvested when they are smaller, at between day 21 and 24, before insects appear.
Sky Greens now grows only mini plants, which pack more nutrients than mature plants.
The crops are grown in organic compost made up of Nespresso recycled coffee grounds, chicken manure pellets from local farms and vegetable waste from Sky Greens.
Dr Ngiam Tong Tau, who headed the Organic Primary Produce Working Group, which crafted the SS 632, said it plugged a gap in organic certification for urban farms.
"Organic farming practices have increasingly been adopted worldwide in open field soil-based farms. However, there is now a rapid decline in arable farmland and more farms are being developed in urban areas," said Dr Ngiam, who is also the chairman of Sky Urban Solutions Holding, which owns Sky Greens.
A few urban farms including Panasonic's indoor vegetable farm have expressed interest in the SS 632 certification.