High-tech ‘toolbox’ to raise food production when need arises: Chan

Developing a "toolbox" of high-tech farming solutions in Singapore will equip it with the capabilities to scale up local production when the need arises, even if such strategies are not deployed immediately, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.

"Once we have built these capabilities, when the conditions necessitate it, we can scale up to capacity," he told reporters during a visit to the Sky Greens vertical vegetable farm in Lim Chu Kang.

For instance, if demand for locally produced food goes up because of natural causes, or because of export restrictions that disrupt supply chains, Singapore will have the technological know-how to increase production, Mr Chan said.

The global food system is facing multiple challenges, he added, pointing to the need to grow, in a sustainable way, affordable and high-quality food to feed a growing global population.

Ensuring the resilience of supply chains is also crucial, he added.

The Republic now banks on three key strategies to safeguard its food supply - importing from a diversity of sources, boosting local production and stockpiling.

The contribution of each strategy to overall food supply depends on Singapore's security needs at that point, as well as the associated costs and opportunities of each, he said.

For instance, during peacetime, Singapore is able to count on its multiple sources of foreign imports.

But even then, the country will still invest in developing its local agri-tech capabilities, said Mr Chan.

"We will still develop the local capabilities, but we may not scale up the local capacities because we have more competitive sources," he explained.

"But if things suddenly take a turn for the worse, and overseas supplies are unable to provide the diversity we previously had, then we are able to up local capacities."

Mr Chan's comments came amid a government push to get farmers here to harness technology in local food production.

Singapore has a "30 by 30" goal to produce 30 per cent of its nutritional needs by 2030.

Currently, more than 90 per cent of the nation's food is imported.

Asked if he thought consumers here will pay more for locally produced food, Mr Chan said farms will need the support of fellow Singaporeans to get over the initial hump.

But he noted that the aim is for farms here to leverage economies of scale to be price competitive in the long run.

"Their (local farms) holy grail is always to produce something that is price competitive to potential imports elsewhere, given the constraints of land, labour, water and energy," he said.

This article first appeared in The Straits Times.

Food & Drink