Alt-Foods: Making our Little Red Dot food secure.

History is being made in Singapore today, just as I am submitting the first draft of this story. Lab grown chicken will be served at an exclusive restaurant in Singapore, making it the first commercial sale of cell-based meat anywhere in the world. Singapore’s regulatory approval for the manufacture and sale of cultured meat by Eat Just is in line with their “30 by 30” plan of meeting 30% of total nutritional needs locally by 2030.

Local farms supplying fresh vegetables, eggs and fish account for less than 10% of the total food supply, with over 90% of food being imported. Singapore has about 220 farms, which last year produced 14% of leafy vegetables, 26% of eggs and 10% of fish needs. The panic surrounding the border restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic brought into focus Singapore’s reliance on food imports.

Cell-based meat is one of the alternative sources of protein. Eat Just, besides having introduced cell-based chicken in the Singapore market, has also invested $120 million for a plant-based egg manufacturing facility in Singapore. TurtleTree Labs uses a cell-based approach to produce milk and milk components, while Shiok Meats is working towards developing cell-based crustacean meats (shrimp, crab, lobster). Lab-based meats are clean and less susceptible to vagaries of weather and disease outbreaks, as compared to conventional animal farming.

As the availability of farmland is limited, traditional farming is being replaced by high-tech farming practices that increase food production while conserving the use of resources and minimizing waste. Singapore is developing an efficient urban food system to address food resilience in the long term. Technology not only enhances environmental sustainability, it also enables business sustainability by reducing uncertainty in growth conditions thereby increasing survival of cultivated species. Singapore Food Agency has a $63 million Agriculture Productivity Fund (APF) to facilitate farmers to adopt technology in farming practices. In addition, to help 9 companies amp up food production capabilities within the next 2 years, SFA has recently awarded $39 million of funding support under the ‘30×30 Express’ grant.

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Netatech has developed a farm IoT that automates the farming conditions in response to climate data and crop parameters collected by sensors. Yili Farm has fully automated roofing and irrigation systems, as well as sensors to monitor crop and environment conditions. Irrigation systems include rainwater harvesting and drip irrigation.

Indoor farming reduces water usage by up to 90% as compared to conventional outdoor soil farming. Vertical farms such as Sky Greens grow vegetables such as leafy greens in vertical layers or planes indoors. High-tech indoor farms such as I.F.F.I. Farms and Vegeponics use strict temperature control, LED purple light, and even classical music to provide optimal growth conditions to growing vegetables. Indoor farming also includes hydroponics (growing plants in water that contains all the nutrients needed for plant growth, without soil) and aeroponics (growing of plants by spraying them with nutrient solutions while their roots are suspended in air).

Urban farming in alternative spaces is encouraged, with rooftop farms springing up throughout the city. Comcrop is Singapore’s first and till date only commercial rooftop farming company. Tenders have been rolled out by SFA to convert vacant multi-storey car parks of housing societies into rooftop farms. Aquaponics rooftop gardens are located at Fairmont Singapore and Swissotel The Stamford hotels. Integrating aquaculture and hydroponics, the waste produced by farmed fish acts as the nutrient source for plants grown hydroponically. Such aquaponics systems allow for efficient use of resources with minimal wastage. It is a sustainable system where fish waste is converted to nitrates, used by the vegetables as fertilizers, and the plants act as a filter to clean the water for the fish. Spread across 450 square metres, the farm supplies produce that meets 10-30% of vegetable and fish needs of these hotels.

Fish farms such as Apollo aquaculture group use a recirculating aquaculture system to recycle and treat water, thus minimizing waste. Besides land-based indoor fish farming, fish is also farmed in the sea. There are 109 sea-based fish farms in Singapore, such as the deep sea fish farm Kuhlbarra, which farms barramundi in pristine oxygen rich waters and Rong-Yao Fisheries that rears the golden pomfret.

While most sea fish farms employ open net cage farming systems, a closed containment system was introduced last year. The Eco-Ark is one of the first floating closed containment fish farms in the world. It is based on a patented Novel Offshore Advanced Hull system (NOAHs). Seawater is drawn through pumps and sterilized via ozone technology, and is then passed to the four fish tanks. The spent water containing fish waste and extra feed is then purified by a filtration system and returned to the sea. This system is less vulnerable to environmental threats and saves labor and energy. Eco-Ark is expected to yield up to 166 metric tonnes of fish each year.

While the goal of 30 by 30 is ambitious, there is increased awareness that self-reliance and food security are the need of the hour. Local produce is safe, fresher and better for the environment with lower carbon footprint. As the burgeoning interest in the “Gardening with Edibles” programme of the National Parks Board shows, Singapore is eager to grow food locally.

WORDS: Saumya Bajaj

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