SINGAPORE: Farming will be a part of Singapore's future to strengthen resilience in food supply, and a Farm Transformation Map, which includes increasing Government funding, has been developed to make this a reality, said Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon in Parliament on Tuesday (Mar 7).
The Farm Transformation Map aims to guide the transformation of the local farming sector in four areas: Physical space, innovation, people development and the broader ecosystem. On the last point, Dr Koh said there is a need to grow the ecosystem, increasing demand for local produce and helping farms seek financing.
In this regard, the Industry Consultation Panel (ICP), which was convened in January this year, pointed out that tight cash flows often limit farmers from investing in more expensive technology. The current S$63 million Agriculture Productivity Fund (APF) co-funds investments in tech but on a reimbursement basis, and Dr Koh said this will change from April this year.
"The APF will disburse up to 30 per cent of the approved funding quantum upfront to facilitate the adoption of technology," he said, adding that this will complement the move to increase the tenure of farm lands to 20-year leases.
The APF was launched in 2014 and farmers are supported through the Basic Capability Upgrading, Productivity Enhancement and Research and Development schemes.
The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) will also adopt a new account management approach for the farms, which means that each farm will have a dedicated account manager to advise them on business development, technology adoption and financial assistance, Dr Koh said.
OVERCOMING SPACE, MANPOWER CHALLENGES
As for overcoming space constraints, the Minister of State said there is a need to "go upwards into the sky, downwards into the ocean and indoors within our buildings". He pointed to traditional vegetable farms like Kok Fah that are using advanced greenhouses and irrigation systems to mitigate the effects of changing weather patterns, as well as fish farms like Barramundi Asia that are growing sea bass in deep underwater net cages.
"These are all innovative solutions that can help us grow more food with less space," he said.
Dr Koh also highlighted the need for more innovation, whether it is to increase production yields, pursue water and energy efficiency or to adapt solutions to protect against climate change that affects yields.
For instance, technologies like the closed containment aquaculture system can reduce the vulnerability of coastal farmers' fish stocks to environmental risks, he said.
"Through technology, farming will begin to resemble an industrialised production process like a factory. It will also attract and excite a younger generation of tech-savvy Singaporeans to venture into this industry," Dr Koh said.
There is also the need to have the right people to achieve this vision, and the Minister of State said the modern farmers should be called “agri-technologists” or “agri-specialists”.
"Farming will no longer just be about horticulture or aquaculture. It will no longer just be about toiling in the sun, doing manual labour but also about engineering, about infocomm technology, about entrepreneurship, and R&D," Dr Koh said.
He added: "This Farm Transformation Map is just in its infancy. We will continue to work with the ICP and other stakeholders to refine it as we gain momentum and as technology for farming matures."