October 2, 2022

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How Singapore’s agritech startups help strengthen domestic food security

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Past thirty day period, Malaysia announced a chicken export ban in an effort and hard work to command price ranges of domestically bought rooster. Singaporeans were justifiably unsettled — Malaysian chicken is a single of the 3 important resources of imported chicken in Singapore, with the other two staying American and Brazilian imported rooster.

Though many of us who have developed up in this small metropolis-state have most likely heard, the ongoing narrative is Singapore is reliant on overseas trade to survive, but couple of of us have in all probability found what the difficulty appears to be like up close and this current shift has been a rude wake-up connect with to many.

Not all have been caught off guard although. Singapore’s governing administration has in fact been knowledgeable of the want to diversify our meals supply, and nearby manufacturing is portion of that strategy.

The Singapore Food stuff Agency (SFA) has its very own targets as element of Singapore’s Environmentally friendly Program 2030, which is their variation of ‘30 by 30’. This will indicate that 30 per cent of our consumed foodstuff will be generated locally by 2030. So how is this approach coming together?

Farming hits the roof in Singapore

Quite a few of us could possibly be shocked to listen to that Singapore basically has farmers — and these are not farmers from the kampung that several of us could think about when we think of the agriculture industry in Southeast Asia.

Alternatively, the agritech and agrifood sector in Singapore is quintessentially Singaporean, incorporating technologies in their processes in order to realize far better outcomes. 

The clearest example of this is in urban farming. In contrast to working with massive, open up tracts of land for crops, structures turn into the essential locale for agriculture in its place. Constructing rooftops, or even custom-created superior-tech structures can be utilised to develop foodstuff and relieve Singapore’s dependence on foreign imports.

SFA and the Housing Enhancement Board (HDB) have launched a tender in Might 2020 for rooftop farms on public housing auto parks.

For just one, Citiponics operates a 1,800 square metre farm atop a multi-storey carpark in Ang Mo Kio, escalating amongst three and 4 tonnes of pesticide-free vegetables a thirty day period.

Launched in 2016, Citiponics aims to develop harmless produce by means of its zero-waste farming course of action. It has a proprietary vertical farming technological know-how identified as Aqua-Natural and organic Technique (AOS) — this falls below a reliable-dependent soilless society, which is diverse from the likes of classic farming and hydroponic farming procedure.

danielle chan citiponics
Danielle Chan, co-founder of Citiponics / Impression Credit score: Citiponics

It was established specially for farming in close proximities to households and neighbourhoods.

Some of the strengths incorporate it getting a zero-waste farming technique where every part is recyclable and reusable, compared to regular farming the place you may well crank out wastage from soil and water use.

– Danielle Chan, co-founder of Citiponics

All of Citiponic’s farmed produce are segmented to household deliveries, close by inhabitants, and selected NTUC FairPrice outlets.

Citiponics is not the only startup that engages in city farming on rooftops. Nicholas Goh and his staff at Nature’s Intercontinental Commodity are doing some thing comparable in Tampines. He was one of the couple who gained the tender bid in May possibly 2020 to produce rooftop farms on public housing carparks.

The Tampines carpark farm grows veggies like xiao bai cai, kailan and bayam to cater to the consumption behaviors of locals.

urban farming nicholas goh
Urban farming utilizes soil know-how and depends on sensors to recognize challenges / Graphic Credit rating: Nicholas Goh

In accordance to Nicholas, city farming procedures vary from regular farming. His enterprise employs its soil technologies — eco-friendly organic and natural fertilisers — to improve the greens. Nicholas also employs sensors to aid establish prospective crop troubles, which he states will help him preserve time and cash.

“I consider in a strategic farming remedy, which is to do small, manage perfectly and be strategically situated. Urban farming defines that as a farm, as it materials and supplements the demands of the inhabitants,” he explained.

From farming on structures to farming in properties

The notion of urban farming can be taken even further more. What comes about if as a substitute of having urban farming just on rooftops, overall buildings are customized designed in order to cater to the needs of city farming?

Just one company that is doing this is Archisen — it’s an agritech startup in Singapore that is targeted on creating greens such for neighborhood consumption.

Impression Credit history: Archisen

In accordance to co-founders Sven Yeo and Vincent Wei, “Food protection is an extension of Singapore’s 5 pillars of defence, and innovation and tech can keep nearby generate low cost in the extended operate.”

City farming is vital for Singapore mainly because of meals protection. We observed the consequences of COVID-19 on the offer chain with empty grocery store cabinets, and most just lately, with the provide issues relating to Malaysian poultry. It obviously demonstrates the vulnerability of the source chain to disruptions, and there are limited alternatives to develop resilience without having urban farming in Singapore.

– Sven Yeo and Vincent Wei, co-founders of Archisen

In an attempt to raise local production, Archisen works by using a large tech urban farm that is in a position to imitate the ecosystem wherever plants are obviously grown, and have previously developed their individual city farming functioning method recognised as Cropdom.

They are also setting up to combine automation into their urban farm, and broaden the business enterprise with much more city farms.

Clearly, startups this sort of as these start with an finish in intellect — to help Singapore obtain some degree of self-sustainability when it arrives to foodstuff protection, at least for veggies.

But our regional dietary requirements do not just consist of greens. What about meat and fish?

Aquaculture in Singapore

Singapore consumes 120,000 tonnes of seafood each and every yr — this quantities to about 16kg of fish for each man or woman. What’s worse, a lot of of the species that we take in are unsustainable because of to overfishing. So the place can an alternate resource of fish be found? 

For Singapore, aquaculture can perform a purpose. The procedure will involve maintaining and raising fish, right before owning them provided to the community marketplace for consumption.

Equivalent to city agriculture, technological innovation in this article plays a important function. Atlas Aquaculture, a land-primarily based aquaculture startup in Singapore, takes advantage of technological innovation to make certain that the seafood that Singaporeans take in can be made regionally. 

atlas aquaculture
Impression Credit rating: Atlas Aquaculture

Located in Sungei Tengah, they have a huge range of authorities on website to guarantee that their fish are of higher quality. 

The technique that Atlas employs lets them to recycle and reuse above 95 for each cent of their h2o, which is a further commodity with restricted provide in Singapore.

On the other hand, the use of technological know-how is not often simple.

Sustaining healthful drinking water excellent requires a huge total of scientific expertise and can be overwhelming for the typical operator to approach. Our first variation of Recirculating Aquaculture Techniques applied existing factors from related industries, only to learn that there was much enhancement desired.

We have considering that personalized created new filtration factors for our systems, and will be establishing AI and equipment mastering before long. With serious automation getting monitored and managed by AI, we can remove human mistake and raise efficiency.

– Kane McGuinn, founder and CEO of Atlas Aquaculture

Their tenacity and ingenuity also indicates that it is not only fish that aquaculture can make — related fish and maritime products and solutions can also be made. Atlas has previously properly managed to create mussels and oysters that enable filter the drinking water, as properly as vegetation this sort of as seaweed and sea grapes.

“We are working towards Singapore’s goal of 30 per cent by 2030, but it is a monumental undertaking. It will get a substantial amount of expenditure and cooperation to even get shut to this intention,” he provides.

Financial investment in the agrifood and agritech industries

Of course, both equally city agriculture and aquaculture have their own issues. Presented how technologically intense they are, careful thought is needed for the additional development of these systems. 

This spot is one where startups would recognize assistance in, but how is the investment landscape like for these industries?

An investment decision associate at a undertaking capital firm that Vulcan Submit spoke to mentioned rather frankly that the outlook was not very positive — the approaching recession is predicted to hit just about every sector really hard, and the agritech sector is no unique.

“The sectors are nonetheless smaller, and VCs do not have a incredibly robust appetite for agritech and agrifood startups for the time currently being,” he reasoned further more.

But these undertaking companies have causes for their doubts. For a person, the cash-intensive nature of these startups could be a barrier to some traders. 

Yet another situation relates to the viability of agritech items. Significant expenditures of generation normally translate into greater selling price details for customers when these products and solutions lastly strike the cabinets, and enterprise corporations see this as a considerable barrier for startups to defeat.  

Shoppers in Asia are generally worried with price tag relatively than the origin of the product. Why would I fork out additional if it provides me the same dietary value as traditional alternatives? Rates can be brought down, but we are not observing that.

– Expenditure partner at a venture money organization

Of program, this does not imply that the agritech and agrifood sectors can’t anticipate any guidance when it comes to increasing funds. The financial investment companion mentioned that there are many modifications that VCs would like to see in these startups.

To begin with, he hopes that these startups thoroughly scientific tests their audience to see if their business techniques are even now ideal. A different issue is for these startups to cut down on procedure prices to reduce cash burn.

“These adjustments would seriously incentivise VCs to rethink their assumptions about the field, and likely search extra favourably upon funding these startups.”

As Singapore moves in direction of enhancing self-sufficiency for meals intake, a lot of startups appear to be keen to support this craze. But as we can see, it is not effortless for them.

Large tech fees feel to be a hindrance for them on a lot of amounts — it helps make scaling complicated, and gives a ‘Catch 22’ when browsing for funding. Buyers are hesitant to invest due to the fact of the amount of capital essential to make them effective, but with out funding, advancement is tricky.

There is hope although. These startups are also reporting that product sales have been encouraging, and prices for these solutions are slowly and gradually matching up to buyer anticipations and one day, we may see a case exactly where these startups aid Singaporeans offer with supply chain disruptions.

Showcased Image Credit score: Archisen



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