Singapore is one of the two most food import-dependent countries in the world. According to the Global Food Security Index (GFSI), the city-state imports 90% of its food, meeting the shortfall through local production.  Urban farming and agritech in Singapore could be the key to solving the country’s consumption needs.

The over-reliance on foreign supply leaves Singapore open to disaster if something interferes with its importation process.

One such scenario became a reality as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged and wreaked havoc on the global economy. It has affected vulnerable populations, hindered international trade and cooperation and reduced countries’ ability to bring in essential goods. Fears of food security led to panic buying, and prolonged safety measures have made the foodservice industry among the worst-hit in the country.

Last year in April, the Minister for Trade and Industry, Chan Chun Sing, told the nation to be prepared for disruptions in the global supply chains due to the restrictions addressing the pandemic. Lockdowns and worldwide movement limitations were going to affect the production capacities and importations, which would impact Singapore’s food availability.

Because of the potential for such scenarios creating insecurity in the city-state, the Singaporean government has proposed solutions to enhance local food production. Many agencies are involved, including the Singapore Food Agency’s (SFA) grants to boost farm outputs and the Agriculture Productivity Fund’s (APF) million-dollar investments, which will increase farm productivity and capability. Moreover, the Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and the Economic Development Board teamed up to attract or nurture tech-based businesses in the agricultural sector.

In addition, the SFA is pushing the ‘30 by 30’ vision, which aims to meet 30% of the country’s nutritional needs by 2030. It will be complemented by the Singapore Green Plan 2030, whose goal is to ensure a sustainable and resilient food future.

Agritech in Singapore is addressing the food supply question by improving production through innovative solutions. Some of their ideas involve using vertical fish farms, indoor agriculture and rooftop farming. The government is investing $60 million USD to fund startups and provide extra support to the sector.

Here are two examples of agritech startups making a difference in the country.

Sustenir Agriculture

To meet the demand for sustainable, environmentally-friendly and consistent food supply, Sustenir Agriculture has a mission to grow food in impossible places. It uses Controlled Environment Agriculture to produce over 90 tonnes of seasonal crops year-round. The food is free from chemicals, pesticides and pollutants.

In addition, Sustenir uses 95% less water than traditional farming, which wastes a lot of water without fulfilling its purpose. Another problem is that the water either evaporates or washes away valuable nutrients in the soil, depositing chemicals and pesticides in nearby rivers. Irrigation is also inefficient and inadequate – when done poorly – leading to undernourished crops.

Sustenir’s method is more sustainable since it uses technology to reduce energy consumption and emissions.  It also recycles and saves more water than other methods. Lab-grown food leaves land open for other environmentally-friendly measures such as planting trees.

Packet Greens

As a food producer and distributor, Packet Greens takes sustainable indoor farming to the next level using hydroponics technology, which grows plants without soil.

This farming method maximises space, reaps higher yields and does not struggle with soil deficiencies. In addition, the crops grow quicker and predictably year-round, conserving water and producing high-quality food. Hydroponics is sustainable because it uses less labour, requires fewer resources and reduces emissions and energy consumption.

In 2017, Packet Greens raised $1.5 million USD from Spring SEEDS Capital and TRIREC. Spring SEEDS Capital is part of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, while TRIREC is a cleantech company supporting sustainable farming and helping Packet Greens scale its business.

As things stand, urban farming represents Singapore’s best chance of maintaining its food security, reducing the need for constant agricultural imports. The agritech startups popping up will help drive innovation and effective options in food production in the city-state.

The SFA has several strategies that will maintain the country’s food supply for a while. It is diversifying the food zones and targeting contract farming overseas. It continues searching for new sources of farm produce in the region and beyond, and it provides funding for local companies to unearth agricultural solutions. In addition, the agency gives public education on viable alternative products to limit the overreliance on foreign or insufficient local goods.

For agritech in Singapore to advance, the government must invest in the industry and encourage citizens to follow the indoor farming pathway. The small farmland available should not limit people from venturing into agriculture.

With this new mindset, the country can chart a food security path for itself and other countries in Southeast Asia.