Grow Local: Tech Solutions for a Rising Urban Farming Industry
Singapore Government is aiming to locally meet 30% of our nutritional needs by 2030.
Yet, how can land-scarce Singapore achieve this goal in our domestic food production?
Can technology enable our city-state to achieve our 30-by-30 food security goal and shift Singapore into Agriculture 4.0?
At our webinar on 18 May 2022, InfraCrowd Capital, Singapore venture capital firm specialising in raising home-grown agri-tech startups, shared on growth opportunities, while SGTech members GreenHood, AmpleFresh, and Cookin1, shared on the tech solutions, challenges, and what the tech industry can do to revolutionise Singapore’s urban farming for profitable sustainability.
Investment and Growth Opportunities in Agri-Tech Space
Mr John Lee, InfraCrowd Capital’s CEO & Managing Partner, sees today’s environment of global pandemic, climate change urgencies, and shifting geopolitics, as vast opportunities emerging from worldwide crises. Sustainability challenges facing Southeast Asia are reported to present USD 1 trillion annually in economic opportunities until 2030. Much more room remains for growth in agriculture and food since these sectors saw only a cumulative USD 1.7 billion investment inflow in 2021.
This growth opportunity is also present in Singapore. Currently, we have over 104 agri-tech start-ups in hi-tech farming of green produce, eggs, alternative proteins and fish. Our government vision is to raise our local food productions from the current low national levels of 13% of all vegetables, 9% of all fishes, and 24% of eggs.
Investors can help Singapore meet these gaps while powering the rise of a new economic sector. Investment evaluation metrics would extend beyond financial modelling norms to include assessing the passion, grit and adaptability of the founders, and the estimated social impact of the value proposition.
Agriculture 4.0 – Smart Tech in Urban Farming
Mr Gaurav Saraf, Founder of Greenhood, and SGTech’s Sustainability Committee Workgroup Member, outlined how agriculture has advanced from Agriculture 1.0 driven by fossil fuel vehicles and chemical pesticides to today’s Agriculture 4.0.
Agriculture 4.0 disrupts land farming by moving farming to vertical structures, containers, climate agnostic and environmentally controlled greenhouses, or rooftops, all made possible by new technologies such as hydroponics, IoT, digitisation, automation and robotics, and AI.
IoT monitors and records the precise levels of nutrients, humidity, water, carbon dioxide and light required for the crops. This data is digitised on AI-powered software to create alerts, quantify and predict yields, perform phenotyping, manage supply chains, and autonomous farming activities. The latter is useful for urban areas where robotics can substitute costly human labour to perform harvesting, quality and pest control.
Technology Challenges faced by Urban Farmers in Singapore
Mr Nguyen Nick, CTO and Co-founder of AmpleFresh, and SGTech’s Sustainability Committee Workgroup member, affirms that integrating technologies into hi-tech farming makes farming possible in new environments.
However, challenges remain. While much less space is needed for farming on rooftops, terraces, or in containers and greenhouses, space is still required. As urban areas are getting more crowded every year, his team has developed a patent-pending SUFFICIT System to convert dormant building walls into productive areas for growing edible greens.
Other challenges lie in data security, storage and processing of big data, infrastructure and Connectivity for IoTs, lack of IT knowledge among urban farmers, high cost of integration and upgrades, hardware dependencies, and lack of knowledge sharing platform.
Panel Session and Poll
The session provided three key insights:
Singapore is surprisingly a good destination for urban farming
The panellists collectively cited the stability and good governance of Singapore, availability of funding, positive attitude of government towards hi-tech farming, a general growing open-mindedness of a consumer population towards food produced in new ways, as well as opportunities to testbed solutions and offerings in our crowded urban areas, among our cosmopolitan consumers.
Growing consumer demand for sustainable sources of food.
Joanne Chong, Founder of Cookin1, and SGTech’s Sustainability Committee Workgroup Lead, shared that an increasing number of Singapore consumers are more conscious about their daily sources and management of food. Cookin1 was therefore founded to supply wholesome and balanced pre-portioned ingredients for home-cooking directly to time-challenged urbanites so that they could reduce food waste and shopping time, while ensuring their meals are prepared from fresh, sustainable sources of ingredients.
Key factors to accelerate local demand for Singapore’s urban farming sector.
Of the 150 attendees polled, 91% wished to see more locally grown vegetables and herbs available for sale, but 49% would compare the price and freshness against imported equivalents before buying.
As such, more can be done to democratise the pricing and offerings of locally grown produce. Supply chain costs was an area that Singapore, a renowned global logistics hub, could readily make a difference in. As opined by Mr John Lee, an “uberisation” of existing supply models could change the game. Another idea was that all households could be installed with a home unit supplying organically grown greens.
The panellists believed that the tech industry could come together with SGTech to solve these challenges collectively, or advocate in collaboration with policymakers to develop Singapore’s hi-tech farming industry as a whole.
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Published Jun 2022