Ahead of the virtual Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Summit, we caught up with David Farquhar, CEO at IGS about advancing indoor farming systems in Asia, new projects on the horizon and working with governments to scale up controlled environment agriculture.

David Farquhar, CEO, IGS // Asia Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Summit
David Farquhar, CEO, IGS

What role can indoor farming play in delivering greater sustainability and resilience to Asia’s urban food systems, especially post-Covid?
The resilience of food supply chains has been tested to the limit throughout 2020 in the wake of COVID-19 and has brought very quickly to the fore the food security challenges Asia and most other regions will face with climate change.  Now is the time to be focusing very clearly on local (urban and peri-urban) food production to ensure greater self-sufficiency and less reliance on imports. Greater adoption of agricultural technologies is imperative to ensure optimum use of available space, be it urban, industrial or uncultivatable land, all of these are spaces that can be used to introduce more indoor farming methods. As part of the agricultural ecosystem, this will deliver a far more controlled and sustainable method for producing fresh, home grown crops, probably amounting to something like 25-30% of a fully balanced diet.

Does the APAC market offer particular opportunities or challenges for scaling urban/indoor farming, compared to other global markets? What particular projects is IGS excited about in this region? What progress has already been made?
Asia-Pacific has a very differing climate across its expanse, which makes it hard to compare easily with other regions. The population in these regions is significant and growing substantially which puts food security very high on the agenda, highlighting the importance of finding new ways to produce and complement the existing agricultural ecosystem. In addition to growing populations, land and water scarcity are also becoming significant in certain geographies and this makes indoor farming – which requires a much smaller footprint and utilizes a fraction of the water typically required to produce crops – a very interesting proposition. This has led to some exciting collaborations between commercial and government bodies. For example, in Singapore and Hong Kong, where land is very scarce and expensive, there is a demand for alternative options of producing food. The appetite for indoor and alternative growing methods is highlighted in Singapore’s 30 by 30 initiative, aiming to reduce import reliance and expand food self-sustainability.

In terms of exciting projects, we are delighted to be working with Eden Towers (https://eden-towers.com/) a very ambitious new entrant to the national and regional food chains that are re-localising across APAC. Based in Jakarta and privately financed, they have major plans for regional expansion with sites planned already in Singapore, Australia and Indonesia. The first location will be Perth, Western Australia and the initial farm is under manufacture for imminent deployment. This is what we believe to be the first of many in this region. We are in advanced discussions across the APAC region with existing growers and other prospects and are currently trialling a range of crops specific to the cuisine and tastes of the population. These are progressing very well in our system and producing some very tasty results. We have other customers in the pipeline with projects in Singapore, India and Polynesia.

What partnerships and collaborations are needed to scale controlled environment agriculture in Asia? What types of organisations are you keen to connect with at the Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Summit in November?
In this wider region, we recognise the important role that governments more broadly have to play in supporting and driving the food security and sustainability agenda. In Singapore for example we have talked closely with the Economic and Development Board (EDB) and the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), who are aiming to draw investment, research and development into Singapore-based companies.

At November’s event we hope to connect with existing and established growers, as well as entrepreneurs looking to set up farms or expend their existing horticulture operations. We also welcome further interaction with the EDB and SFA, as well as those operating in real estate and commercial property investment.

Finally, we are keen to identify regional sources of investment capital and asset finance on behalf of our customers seeking to establish agri-tech operations.

What key insights will you be looking out for personally at the summit?
I am very interested to know what emphasis is being put on clear and open data-driven discussions about payback timescales from investment in agri-food technologies. We know that there are technologies with varying approaches, sizes and challenges to address, but ultimately these solutions need to be sustainable, scalable and operationally reliable. However, they need to be commercially sound and that is something I am very keen to discuss further.

Join David online at the virtual Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Summit and watch his panel debate on ‘Success Factors for Scaling Vertical Farming Operations’ on November 19.

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