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Speech by SMS Koh Poh Koon at the Official Launch of the Part-Time Diploma in Applied Sciences and the Opening of the Agricultural Technology Laboratory

Speech by SMS Koh Poh Koon at the Official Launch of the Part-Time Diploma in Applied Sciences and the Opening of the Agricultural Technology Laboratory

Mr David Wong,
Chairman of Republic Polytechnic Board of Governors 

Mr Yeo Li Pheow
Principal and CEO,
Republic Polytechnic
 
Ms Isabella Loh, 
Member, Republic Polytechnic Board of Governors, and
Chairperson, Republic Polytechnic School of Applied Science School Advisory Committee  
 
Mr Lim Kok Thai
Chief Executive Officer, Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA)

Mr George Huang,
Chairman, Singapore Agro-Food Enterprises Federation (SAFEF) 

Distinguished Guests, Valued Partners and Friends,

1. Good morning. It gives me great pleasure to be here today at Republic Polytechnic for the official launch of the Part-time Diploma in Applied Science in Urban Agricultural Technology, and the opening of the Agriculture Technology Laboratory.

Transformation of the Farming Industry 

2. As a small country where land is a scarce resource, Singapore has always had limited land space for domestic food production. In fact, Singapore imports more than 90% of our food supply from abroad, and we pay close attention to global food supply developments and disruptions. We need to look at how we can increase the margin of safety for our own food supply, and clearly leveraging on technology is one way to do so.  

3. However, with increased urbanisation turning farmland into cities around the world, and with climate change leading to more extreme weather patterns affecting crop harvest, the problem of how to feed more people on less arable land has become a global concern. On the other hand, there is also increasing demand for healthier, more sustainable, and safer food amongst urban consumers.

4. The world therefore needs innovative solutions to transform traditional farming to make it more productive. We need to rethink agricultural production as a manufacturing process that has a small footprint, is lean on manual labour, and sustainable for our planet. The rise of technology enablers presents the opportunity to develop novel farming methodologies and products to address the growing supply-demand imbalance. By using artificial lighting, sensors and control systems, we are able to bring farms indoors into underutilised urban spaces, stack and pack them more densely and control the environment of growing to improve productivity, so that we could produce ample, quality food to feed expanding cities. Our future farmers will also no longer toil under hot sun; they will be operating plant factories instead of farms. 

5. Singapore is in a good position to turn ourselves into a leading Asia hub for urban agriculture and aquaculture technologies. We have the pre-requisite capabilities in specialty chemical, biologics, energy and waste management, and automation and robotics, and we are centrally located in a growing region.  Southeast Asia will continue to have demand for such sophisticated food products and we also have a good logistics hub that our growers can leverage on to ship their products worldwide. 

6. We can become home to high-tech urban farms that not only produce fresh, nutritious food, but also develop technologies and systems that can help transform farming in our region. You need not just been an exporter of food products but also exporters of food technologies to help others help themselves. We have seen several of our local farms investing in new technologies to boost productivity; we are also seeing promising Singapore start-ups blooming. There’s a Chinese saying that 天时,地利,人和 are the three key ingredients to success. Singapore is in the right place, at the right time, and with your efforts, we will have the right people to power this new growth sector forward.  

Developing Local Talent

7. We will need a new generation of talent in agricultural technologies, with in-depth understanding of urban farming processes and business models, and multi-disciplinary expertise in areas including engineering, info-comm technology, and entrepreneurship. It is no longer just about knowing the land and the soil, it is about bringing people with technological expertise together. Many of the startups that we see today in urban farming start with zero farming experience. It is about bringing people with diverse sets of expertise together, giving them that technological knowledge to bring forth a new sector of growth. They will form the core of our local high-tech agriculture ecosystem, and lead the way in accelerating the development and adoption of new technologies and innovations to transform farming for Singapore and the region. 

8. To achieve the above, we need a shared vision and strong partnerships between companies, education and training providers, as well as the Government. I would like to commend RP’s efforts in collaborating with AVA and the Singapore Agro-Food Enterprises Federation (SAFEF) to put together the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programme (ELP) leading to the Part-time Diploma in Applied Science in Urban Agriculture Technology, which is Singapore’s first diploma programme in urban agricultural technology. With the ELP, the Part-time Diploma will not only be available for students, it is also for working adults in this field such as farmers or new entrants such as entrepreneurs looking to make a switch to the sector. So it will also nurture skilled modern farmers with intimate knowledge of our farming ecosystem, to equip them with new skills to transform our farms. I am heartened to know that eight farms and companies have already agreed to be part of this inaugural ELP run.

9. Meanwhile, I am excited to the new Agriculture Technology Lab will not only provide students with hands-on training opportunities in a real-life working environment, but will also be a platform to foster more collaborations between academic and the industry to innovate new solutions. Hopefully we see more intellectual properties arising from this joint venture. 

10. This will help to tackle some of the major challenges that are face faced by the industry such as identifying cost-effective IoT solutions for monitoring and controlling plant health, and feasibility of seedling propagation under LED verses natural lighting conditions. I look forward to seeing more solutions coming from the Lab in the future.

Conclusion

11. Singapore’s urban agriculture and aquaculture sectors, while small, has been a growing pillar in upholding our food supply resilience. Today, our local farms produce 10% of food fish, 13% of vegetables and 27% of eggs we consume in Singapore, and this will continue to grow with technological development. Furthermore, with increasing environmental and demographic shifts changing consumer demand, there will be many exciting possibilities ahead for a career in high-tech urban agriculture.

12. I would like to congratulate RP again for the launch of the Diploma in Urban Agricultural Technology, and the opening of the Agriculture Technology Laboratory. I would like to thank all partners for your support and I wish you every success in your endeavours. 

13. Thank you 

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