More than S$55 million set aside to help agriculture and aquaculture firms innovate

More than S$55 million set aside to help agriculture and aquaculture firms innovate

Strawberries are grown at Singrow
Strawberries are grown at Singrow, a local farm that accelerates harvest and cuts short cultivation period of the highly demanded fruit. (Photo: Grace Yeoh)

SINGAPORE: Nestled in the heart of Henderson estate, a local start-up which grows strawberries indoors is expecting to yield its first harvest in September for sale.

Singrow’s technologies enable strawberries to grow at a temperature of about 28 to 30 degrees Celsius - a warmer climate than usual for strawberries – and the company aims to achieve eight to nine harvests per year. This is compared to the roughly four harvests a year on farms in Japan that grow regular strawberries.

The company is among the agri-food companies that Enterprise Singapore (ESG) is working with to build new capabilities and innovate.

More than S$55 million will be set aside for this purpose, announced ESG on Friday (Jun 26).

READ: Singapore aims to produce 30% of its nutritional needs by 2030, up from less than 10%

“This builds on ESG’s ongoing efforts to develop a vibrant agri-food tech ecosystem that will catalyse innovation and scalable solutions to meet evolving needs,” said the agency.

ESG also encourages the industry to adopt cutting-edge agriculture and aquaculture technologies.

An employee of Augmentus explaining how harvesting works
An employee of Augmentus explaining how harvesting works. (Photo: Grace Yeoh)

Singrow, for instance, combines proprietary cultivation methods with innovative technologies to enhance the growth of high-value crops, while significantly reducing their cultivation period.

This technology can also be applied to other crops that are in higher demand now, including leafy vegetables, said the company.

INCREASED SUPPORT FOR AGRI-FOOD TECH STARTUPS

Since the start of the year, Singapore’s agri-food tech start-ups have benefited from more than S$40 million in investments coming from both the public and private sector, said Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon on Friday during a visit to Singrow.

There have been various initiatives to support the growth of the agri-food tech start-up ecosystem, noted ESG.

READ: New S$30 million grant to help Singapore farms speed up production of eggs, vegetables and fish

Last January, ESG's investment arm SEEDS Capital appointed seven co-investment partners to invest more than S$90 million in early-stage agri-food tech start-ups. 

“ESG has also anchored five global agri-food tech accelerators and one local life sciences accelerator in the past year under the Startup SG Accelerator programme,” the agency added.

“These six accelerators are expected to groom over 150 agri-food tech startups over the next three years.”

machine pollinates flowers and harvests strawberries
Created by Augmentus, an industrial automation company, this machine pollinates flowers and harvests strawberries. (Photo: Grace Yeoh)

One of the accelerators, GROW, is currently helping Singrow in fundraising efforts for its seed round. 

The start-up also plans to set up a larger facility for commercial crop production by early 2022, and expand to markets including China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. 

"ESG's support for agri-tech companies has enabled Singrow to rapidly expand our network of prospective partners through international co-innovation programmes," said Dr Bao Shengjie, CEO of Singrow.

"Our focus on innovation has given us an advantage in the agri-tech field and allowed us to continually explore and develop new solutions for the industry."

Other companies that ESG is working with include Singapore Aquaculture Technologies (SAT) and Sustenir Agriculture.

SAT undertakes innovative solutions to grow fish, as well as enable it to prevent and detect diseases in fish early.

Sustenir produces vegetables with a controlled environment agriculture system that utilises 95 per cent less water compared to traditional farming methods. It also uses robotic solutions that support seeding and transplanting. 

SIGNIFICANT SECTOR DESPITE COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of food security amid disruptions seen across the global food supply chain, said ESG’s deputy CEO Ted Tan.

"There is an urgency for our agriculture and aquaculture companies to leverage agri-food technologies to address the growing demand locally and globally," he added.

"The current COVID-19 situation has underscored the importance of supporting agri-food tech startups and the use of disruptive innovation to future-proof food production in Asia, amidst disruptions observed across the global food supply chain." 

READ: COVID-19 pandemic highlights importance of strengthening Singapore's food security, say experts

With a continued push to grow the agri-food industry, more jobs will be created.

"Start-ups like Singrow provide growth potential that can bring young interns who are interested in the new fields, leveraging a science and technology background to enter the interesting space of growing food as well. At the same time, it also provides an opportunity for mid-career switches," said Dr Koh. 

"Aside from COVID, the world knows that overall food production will be in short supply compared to consumer needs. We see the sector as a growth sector, and post-COVID, people who are looking at new sectors to venture into (should) keep a flexible mind and be prepared to try new things." 

Source: CNA/gy(gs)

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