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Speech by SMS Koh Poh Koon at the Opening of Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Week

Speech by SMS Koh Poh Koon at the Opening of Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Week

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. Good morning. It is my pleasure to welcome you back to Singapore for the second edition of the Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Week.

Agri-food technology and innovation is important for our future

2. Food brings people together in a way that nothing else can, so I am very pleased, but not surprised, to see so many thought leaders gathered here this week to form new connections and to imagine future solutions that will catalyse agri-food developments in Asia and beyond. 

3. Agri-food technology and innovation is important for our future. The world’s population is expected to hit 10 billion by 2050, and we will need to ensure sufficient food to meet their nutritional needs. At the same time, we are seeing increasing cadence and severity of threats to our highly globalised food value chain, both from man-made and natural crises. This year started with an avian flu outbreak in Malaysia and Vietnam, and now the African swine fever is cutting pork supply in China by half and causing pork prices to double. Global trade tensions are also affecting the supply and price of food, among other commodities. I believe we are here today because we want to work together to find opportunities in these challenges, to apply technology for healthier, safer and more resilient food systems, in Asia, and in the world. 

4. We are seeing more businesses apply technology to transform how food is grown and produced. This is happening in Singapore as well. Over the past few years, our economic agencies have been ramping up efforts to support the growth of our local agri-food ecosystem by facilitating investment in technology in three priority areas – urban agriculture, aquaculture, and alternative proteins. 

5. You may ask though, why is a small country like Singapore interested in agri-food technology? We are interested not only because they can provide Singapore and  other urban centres in Asia, an alternative way to feed themselves; but also because they are natural additions to Singapore’s established industries – advanced manufacturing, specialty chemicals, biopharmaceuticals and of course, food manufacturing.

Singapore hopes to contribute in developing and commercialising agri-food innovation and technology solutions

6. In agri-food innovation and technology, we believe Singapore can become a global leader for developing and commercialising solutions that can sustainably feed the world. To enable us to reach our vision, we have been busy working on several initiatives as key ingredients to kickstart Singapore’s ecosystem:

7. In March this year, I shared that I am leading a multi-agency team comprising the Economic Development Board (EDB), Enterprise Singapore (ESG),  A*STAR, JTC Corporation, and the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), to look at various aspects of growing the agri-food ecosystem in Singapore. Together, we are identifying ways to provide better support in industry and enterprise development, R&D, manpower, and regulations. I promised that the Government will work closely with our industry partners to navigate, and where possible, streamline the regulatory requirements to help companies adopt new technology and new business innovations that are integral to this new industry.

8. I also announced that we would be setting up an Agri-Food Innovation Park (AFIP), which we plan to grow into a dedicated nexus for innovation, for us to work with leading high-tech farming operators to demonstrate their technologies at scale and catalyse innovation through fostering synergies across the value chain. Our agencies are in active discussions with a variety of leading local and global companies - including those involved in insect farming and indoor vertical farming - to set up there.

9. In addition, we have also embarked on other initiatives this year:

a. We have appointed seven co-investment partners under a programme that will catalyse more than S$90 million of investments to grow the pool of agri-food tech startups in Singapore. In addition, we have also anchored global accelerators in Singapore including Big Idea Ventures, GROW, Hatch Blue, Temasek Life Accelerator, The Yield Lab, and Trendlines.

b. We announced an S$144 million Singapore Food Story R&D Program earlier this year, which will bring our public research institutes and industry partners together to solve agri-food challenges in areas such as sustainable urban food production and biotech protein production.

c. With our regulatory agencies, we have started a learning journey with our local farms. We will do more to foster innovation while ensuring safety; but as a first step, we will soon be jointly releasing an industry guide for farms. The guide will provide clarity on how regulations apply at the setting up phase, and be especially helpful for farms using new technologies. 

10. On top of the initiatives that we have announced over the past few months, I am also happy to announce that A*STAR will be setting up a new research institute (RI), the Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation (SIFBI) in the first half of 2020. This new RI will bring together existing efforts and research capabilities within A*STAR under one roof, in the areas of food, nutrition, public health, biotechnology, manufacturing, and agri-food technology, as well as food safety research. These capabilities will support the development of solutions for the needs of the Asian market, such as the discovery and production of healthy and sustainable foods.

a. One of the areas that the new RI will nurture is food safety research, which will be critical to the growth of the food industry. To assure consumers of the quality and high standards of Singapore products, SIFBI is developing more accurate and predictive food safety tests. 

b. The new RI will also facilitate greater partnerships between the public sector, institutes of higher learning (IHLs), and the industry. For instance, it will collaborate with the SFA, NUS, and NTU Singapore in research areas such as alternative proteins, food structure engineering, fermentation technology and more.  

11. I look forward to the exciting contributions that this new RI will make towards Singapore as a leading food and nutrition hub. 

Singapore is partnering industry in creating impact in agri-food

12. The initiatives that I have shared would not be possible without the partnership of the industry. In fact, it is through the industry, that our efforts can see their impact amplified and propagated. In this regard, I am very pleased to share how some global companies are collaborating with us on this journey:

Expanding capacity to innovate for Asia

13. AgriProtein, one of the world’s leading insect protein companies, has set up its Global R&D facility in Singapore. As part of their growth strategy, its Operations and R&D HQ will also be based here. 

14. Adisseo, one of the world’s leading feed additive companies, has also decided to set up its first-in-Asia Global Aquaculture R&D facility on St John’s Island where we also have our Marine Aquaculture Centre (MAC). 

15. These two new investments will enhance Singapore’s capabilities and networks to develop solutions that will improve feed conversion ratio, improve sustainability, and reduce production mortality for aquaculture in Asia and beyond. They will also create good job opportunities for those who want to tap into this fast-growing sector. 

Accessing relevant channels to understand and expand into Asia markets

16. While Asia has good potential as a market, its consumers are diverse, and there are a great deal of in-market complexities. Startups, particularly in novel fields such as alternative proteins, are faced with challenges in accessing local know-hows on different channels to reach consumers, and how to launch and position these novel food products for different markets within Asia. 

17. To address this gap, I am pleased to share that local food services giant SATS will be lending its global network and track record as a trusted food services and manufacturing company to help startups. SATS will leverage Country Foods’ sourcing and distribution network to provide a one-stop go-to-market platform for sustainable food products, starting with plant-based proteins for Asia.

Growing a pipeline of talent for novel technology

18. Last but not least, talent will be key to the future innovation and growth of the sector. I am excited to hear that Wilmar International Limited, one of the world’s leading agri-business groups, will be expanding its partnership with EDB under the Industrial Post-Graduate Programme to groom the next generation of R&D talent for the food industry at its Global Innovation Centre in Singapore. Under the programme, Wilmar will train a pool of 20 PhD-level researchers and involve them in technical, multi-disciplinary research projects in novel foods, such as plant-based proteins.

Closing 

19. It has been a busy year for Singapore, as the public and private sectors work together on initiatives to support innovation and growth of the agri-food industry. Looking ahead, there is much more to be done, not only to sustain momentum in what we have put into action but also to continue pushing new frontiers.  

20. Thank you once again for having me this morning. To our industry partners, and to our colleagues in all the various agencies that have been involved in creating Singapore’s new agri-food story, thank you very much for your efforts and commitment in this journey. 

21. I wish everyone a successful and fruitful time at the Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Week.

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