Singapore is recreating its agriculture industry. This time around, with the backing of government policy, substantial education systems and the development of an ecosystem centred on developing niche food products, the future looks good.
Agriculture in the 20th century in Singapore
Up until the late 20th century, Singapore has enjoyed a thriving agriculture and food industry. So, what changed? There was a fresh drive to introduce new technological, tourist and financial sectors, more and more fundamental local assets were being given over to these sectors in an effort to create independence and leave behind its old third world identity (strongly linked to labour intensive farming).
In that aim it has been truly successful, and this is reflected by the modern high-tech cities and thriving shopping centres which are an attraction and great draw to Singapore. Great moves forward have been made in technology and value-adding services. It was therefore primarily after the 1970’s that the food industry suffered from these changes in industry concentration. Records show that the amount of land available for farming reduced to 6 agro technology parks occupying 1500 hectares of land – less than 1% of its total area.
However, it was also recognised that not enough energies and investment were being put behind the agriculture and food industry. Consequently, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) began research projects to help support farmers. It was also at this time that food security globally became an enormous concern.
What is food security?
In tandem with the growth and development of technology, communications and medical knowledge at the end of the 20th century, the consumer demand in food products has changed greatly worldwide. For businesses within the food industry to survive it is essential that the food chain reflects the need for safe, nutritional and healthy food.
The consumer in the 21st century is much more discerning about food intake and can gather relevant information via food packaging. There is also a requirement that farming processes are in line with sustainability principles. Food security occurs when all people are able to access enough safe and nutritious food to meet their requirements for a healthy life in ways the planet can sustain into the future.
A re-emergence of the food industry in Singapore
The combined factors of the new drive for food safety and the projects initiated to support the farmer in Singapore brought about a re-emergence of the food and agriculture industry. The difference in the modern age is farming processes are much more technology driven rather than labour intensive.
On March 4th the senior minister for food, trade and industry, Dr Koh Poh Koon, reflected upon Singapore’s vision. He said the goal was to be a “leading urban agriculture and aquaculture technology hub with a food production model that can be exported to the region.” Resources Minister went one step further by announcing that the country will aim to produce 30% of Singapore’s nutritional needs by 2030.
What is needed for future development?
So how is Singapore getting the agriculture industry back on track when so much land has been lost as a resource? The fact is, large expanses of land are not a pre-requisite for success. Singapore does not have the fundamental resources to grow extensive crops like rice but it can create a niche place in intensive small-area speciality crops.
Smaller amounts of land can be co-ordinated to focus on micro-sectors within the industry. There will need to be a robust ecosystem which is backed by supportive government policies which complement the growing culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. As farming relies more and more on technology, education will be very important in order to attract and train a reliable supply of trained labour. Already, the Centre of Innovation in Aquaculture is being developed at Tamasek Polytechnic. This school offers an applied food science and nutrition diploma – perfect for executives in the agriculture industry. This employment resource is currently lacking in the industry.
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