Opening Speech by Ms Grace Fu, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment, at the Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Summit on 16 November 2021

Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen

It is my pleasure to join you at the Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Summit.

The gathering of agri-food leaders and stakeholders from around the world will bring about new ideas and collaboration on the longer-term sustainability of the agri-food system, for the Asia-Pacific region and the world.

The need for a sustainable global food system

Many trends point us to a future where food supply may not be able to keep up with demand. The global food system will face challenges such as a growing world population, rapid urbanisation, and dwindling resources. Climate change and extreme weather events such as heatwaves, droughts and floods impact farmers and countries around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has further tested global supply chains, straining logistics networks, causing food losses.

Singapore’s ’30 by 30′ goal

Being a small low-lying island nation, Singapore is not spared. We import more than 90 per cent of our food requirement. Volatilities and disruptions in supply impact us heavily. This is why we have set a ’30 by 30′ goal, to build our agri-food capacity and capability to produce 30 per cent of our nutritional needs locally by 2030. As we commit to producing more, we will ensure that it is done in a sustainable manner.

As a small country with limited resources, we want to “grow more with less” through innovation and technology, in a resource-optimal, climate-resilient, and sustainable manner. This is in line with the Singapore Green Plan 2030, a roadmap to advance our national agenda on sustainable development.

Technology and innovation are key enablers

Even as we grapple with the challenge of climate change, we seize new opportunities that come our way. They include technological innovations to improve product quality and process efficiency. More consumers are shifting towards sustainable local produce as awareness in environmental and sustainability issues rises.

Today, technology has enabled farming to achieve possibilities in ways that were unimaginable just a decade ago. With multi-tiered and climate-controlled technology, we can significantly intensify production per unit area. Those who have made this shift have started reaping the rewards. Israel, for example, has an arid climate. Through technology and innovation, Israel has transformed its agri-food industry into one that is renowned for its sustainability and productivity. The Netherlands, another small, densely populated country, has leveraged agri-tech innovation to become a significant exporter of food and a leader in agriculture technology.

Supporting the agri-food industry’s transformation

To support our agri-food industry in their transformation, the Singapore Government has been providing funding support for farms. We want our farms to raise their productivity and reduce their resource footprint. Sustenir, an indoor vegetable farm, is a case in point. With co-funding from the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), the farm implemented a controlled environment agriculture system. The system allows the company to monitor and adjust variables like temperature and humidity to optimise plant growth. SFA will continue to support farms like Sustenir through a $60 million Agri-Food Cluster Transformation (ACT) Fund.

Apart from financial support, we are optimising our agricultural land and refreshing our farming infrastructure. We have embarked on a major exercise to master plan the Lim Chu Kang area, where many of our food farms are currently located. The master planning exercise strives to redevelop Lim Chu Kang into a vibrant, innovative, sustainable agri-food production hub. We have concluded an extensive stakeholder engagement exercise and gathered many interesting proposals. We are also developing the Agri-Food Innovation Park (AFIP) in the adjacent Sungei Kadut Eco-District. The AFIP seeks to attract best-in-class agri-food tech companies as a pilot cluster to develop new agri-food technologies in Singapore.

We are working with the industry to uplift the aquaculture sector. We will create opportunities for farms to upskill and adopt more productive, sustainable and climate-resilient fish farming practices. Some of our sea-based farms are trailblazers. They have started to adopt technology and sustainable practices to ensure consistent high yields of fish and minimise risk of disease.

One example is Eco-Ark. It is one of the world’s first purpose-built floating closed-containment fish farms. It combines offshore and marine technology with a closed containment system to reduce the farm’s vulnerability to external seawater conditions. This achieves better fish survival. To protect the marine environment, it filters and treats water from the farm before discharging it to the sea. Another example is Prime Aquaculture fish farm, which taps on solar panels for 70 per cent of its energy consumption. It uses pelleted feed that enhances nutrition and is more environmentally friendly. The feed is dispensed via automated feeders that saves manpower and reduces waste. These companies are paving the way towards the transformation of Singapore’s aquaculture sector. We will encourage more farms to follow suit.

We are reviewing our policies with a view of providing the industry with greater certainty on their sea space tenure so that our farms can make capital investments and amortize them over a longer time. We are keen to harness the immense potential of being a hub for urban agriculture in R&D and in farming systems. The S$144 million Singapore Food Story R&D Programme supports research and innovation in sustainable urban food production, advanced biotech in protein production, and food safety science. Thus far, we have awarded R&D grants to over 30 projects and have just launched the second grant call for R&D in sustainable urban food production on 12 Nov. We welcome researchers, technology providers and potential adopters to participate and collaborate on innovative urban agriculture research projects. Beyond advancing our agri-food sector, this will generate good jobs and economic opportunities for our companies.

Collective effort needed for sustainable food production

To create a business environment that encourages innovation and facilitates collaboration, our regulatory framework must be relevant, current, yet robust. Earlier this year, we launched the Future Ready Food Safety Hub (FRESH), to create a pro-business food regulatory ecosystem that supports food innovation and allows safe novel foods to be launched. We also bring together multiple government agencies in support of agri-food start-ups and enterprises. We are establishing the Food Tech Innovation Centre – a facility that aims to accelerate the commercialisation of agri-food technologies, including future foods such as alternative proteins, in Singapore. These initiatives contribute to our vibrant eco-system which includes access to early capital, clear and robust IP framework, and availability of research capabilities and talent.

Strengthening food security is challenging, but possible if we work together and tap on one another’s strengths and resources. As the world continues to work towards a more sustainable food system, I believe there will be opportunities for more partnerships and collaborations.

I wish everyone a fruitful and successful summit. Let’s shape our food future together. Thank you.