New accreditation scheme being developed to ensure local farms produce pesticide-free vegetables
SINGAPORE: A new accreditation programme is being developed to certify farms in Singapore that meet the national guidelines of producing pesticide-free and sustainably-grown vegetables, Enterprise Singapore (ESG) said on Monday (Sep 27).
The new programme – to be drawn up by the Singapore Accreditation Council (SAC), which ESG oversees, together with the Singapore Food Agency – will ensure that independent certification bodies can competently assess and recognise such clean and green farms.
The guidelines to ensure produce from local vegetable farms are grown sustainably and free from pesticides – known as the Singapore Standard (SS) 661: Specification for Clean and Green Urban Farms – was launched earlier in March.
It contains criteria that urban farms have to meet in terms of minimising contaminants in the food production process, as well as sustainable practices on resource and waste management.
More about the new standard on clean and green urban farms
Developed by the Singapore Standards Council and the Singapore Food Agency, the Singapore Standard 661: Specification for Clean and Green Urban Farms comprises a set of best practices and farm management systems to ensure the production of clean and green farm produce.
- Does not use chemical pesticides but instead taps on physical, natural and cultural controls to protect its produce from pests and pathogens
- According to an Enterprise Singapore factsheet, physical controls include the use of ultraviolet lights and insect pheromones to trap pests, while cultural control methods refer to companion planting and creating a biodiverse habitat to attract natural enemies of plant pests
- Uses seeds that are not treated or coated with chemical pesticides and stored under appropriate conditions to prevent contamination and deterioration
- Crop management systems at such farms should also collect data from water, soil, fertilisers and cooling systems to check for and minimise exposure to chemical, physical and biological contaminants
- Adopts management systems to optimise the use of water, energy and fertilisers in farming activities, while minimising waste
- Implements control measures to limit the environmental impact of its farming processes and adopts technological solutions to enhance productivity where feasible
- According to the factsheet, such measures include the use of energy-efficient lights as the main light source for crop cultivation
- Farms should also use energy-efficient mechanical and electrical equipment like sensors, timers and thermostat controllers in the production process when appropriate
- For indoor farms that require cooling systems, controls should be put in to reduce the loss of cooled air, as well as lower heat gain from the outside environment
“When a local farm says that it has adopted the standard, you will know that the farm has measures in place throughout the growing process to minimise the vegetables’ exposure to pathogens and pest and that has removed the need for pesticides,” ESG’s director-general of quality and excellence Choy Sauw Kook said at a virtual press conference.
“You will also know that local farmers have implemented management systems to optimise the use of resources, such as water and electricity, in the farming process. With this information in hand, consumers know that locally-produced vegetables are grown without chemical pesticides and responsibly.
"But how can consumers be certain that the standard is followed? This need for assurance is particularly important for products and services that impact them directly," she added.
This is where the accreditation programme comes in to provide “an additional layer of checks”.
“The accreditation programme that the SAC is developing will ensure that conformity assessment bodies are qualified to assess farms’ compliance with the clean and green standard. This is how quality and standards build trust among consumers,” said Ms Choy.
Mr Allan Lim, founder of Comcrop, said receiving such an accreditation will be “very useful” for local farms in terms of competing with imports and helping to ensure profitability.
But while technology and sustainable farming practices are already under way at the home-grown urban farm, Mr Lim still expects the new standard to be a challenge to implement.
“Despite the amount of technology and automation and energy efficiency that we have put in place, there is the part about training our (team’s) ability to adapt to the more stringent requirement, and that would take time as we are now already in operational mode,” he said.
“There are certain practices … and monitoring that have to be done more frequently. We would then have to look at those with our team, implement them, and also look at alternative data recording automation to help us monitor this and capture this data.”
Ms Choy said authorities recognise the challenge and will work closely with industry players.
“We will also come in to see how we can support the farms in terms of the training that is needed to help them put in place all these management systems, processes, best practices or even adopting certain technologies, (as well as) providing some grants to defray the costs,” she said.
OTHER NEW STANDARDS, ACCREDITATION PROGRAMMES
Ms Choy said despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, both the Singapore Standards Council (SSC) and the SAC continued to develop new standards and accreditation programmes to support the needs of local industries last year .
These were related to ensuring supply chain visibility, operational transparency, sustainable business growth and also business resilience against future disruptions – key challenges that were brought to the fore amid the pandemic, she added.
In the last financial year, the SSC developed and reviewed 142 standards, impacting more than 4,400 organisations, its chairman Robert Chew said at the online briefing.
Forty-eight of these standards are new, such as the guidelines on clean and green urban farms, to help build enterprise capabilities, resilience and capture opportunities in emerging sectors, he added.
For instance, the council provided technical reference – provisional standards that cover industry trials – on safe event management practices for the MICE and events industry, as well as a new national standard that ensures the effective roll-out of thermal imagers in settings such as shopping malls for temperature screening.
On the other hand, the SAC issued 33 new accreditation certificates, while reviewing 116 accreditations last year.
Moving forward, the councils will develop more standards and accreditation programmes to support digitalisation, sustainability and resilience of local businesses, as part of a five-year roadmap first announced last year.
Ms Choy said the importance of quality and standards in the current business environment is “widely acknowledged”.
“The momentum was set during COVID-19 when SMEs recognised the importance of business resilience and quickly adopted business continuity plans. Consumers wanted to be assured that the surgical mask that they used were effective against the virus and wanted masks that were certified to meet international standards,” she told reporters.
“So for the next five years, we will continue to build on this momentum.”
For example in the area of digitalisation, while digital solutions have proved to be a reliable tool during the pandemic, there remains challenges like data privacy and cybersecurity issues.
“So standards and accreditation programmes can help to ensure the baseline safety and quality of these solutions,” said Ms Choy.