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Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at A*STAR for Agri-Food Tech Sector

Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at A*STAR for Agri-Food Tech Sector

1. Good morning everyone. Today, I am here together with the key representatives of A*STAR and Perfect Day. We intend to share with you some of our plans for the agri-food tech industry. We first talked about this during last year’s Committee of Supply (COS) debate that we have an intention to make a foray into this new area to create good jobs, and attract new investment for our country.

2. The agri-food tech sector is of growing importance to Singapore’s economy because fundamentally, as the world develops and grows, particularly in Asia, there is an increasing demand for not just food in terms of quantity but also quality. The growing middle-income families in Asia will be more able to afford high-quality food products. Seeking to find innovative, cost effective and sustainable food solutions to meet the increasing demand of Asia Pacific and of course, the world on a wider scale is of an equal importance, not just to Singapore but also to the world.

3. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has also emphasised the need for us to have greater food resilience because we have seen how the food supply chain has been disrupted by both natural causes like the pandemic and policy-induced causes like export restrictions that have been imposed by some countries. That is why, it is important for Singapore to have in place strategies to make sure that we can strengthen the resilience of our food supply chains. As I have mentioned before, this encompasses stock-piling for food reserves within our country, diversification of our food sources from different countries, as well as growing our local production capabilities and capacities. 

4. Now, globally, the agri-food sector is primed for growth. The AgFunder, a VC focused on agri-food tech has announced a 46.8% annual increase to US$16.9 billion of sector venture funding in 2018, and another 17.2% annual increase to US$19.8 billion in 2019. 

5. Leveraging Singapore’s unique farm-to-fork ecosystem and track record for technical capabilities, quality branding and Intellectual Property (IP) protection, we aim to capture a significant share of the economic opportunities in the agri-food tech. Let me share more about our plans. 

6. Amidst all this pandemic, the agri-food tech remains the sector for us to seize new growth opportunities. Perfect Day is an alternative protein company that uses fermentation biotechnology techniques to develop and produce animal-free dairy proteins, casein and whey. These animal-free dairy protein products can be used to make products such as ice-cream, cheese, yogurt that deliver the same taste and texture as traditional dairy products in a sustainable manner. 

7. I am happy to announce that Perfect Day has decided to set up its R&D Centre in Singapore. The A*STAR-Perfect Day Joint Lab will leverage A*STAR’s Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation’s (SIFBI) expertise in analytics and taste analysis, as well as the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology’s capabilities in the study of proteins. The lab, which supports Perfect Day’s global R&D activities, will focus on developing analytical systems that will be critical for ensuring the accuracy, specificity, and consistency of Perfect Day’s fermentation processes and protein ingredients.

8. As part of their plans, they will also hire and train a pool of researchers, scientists and engineers locally, with the know-how for microflora protein innovation for example, in the strain development, protein assays and analysis. This collaboration will further anchor Perfect Day’s R&D investments in Singapore, develop our local talent pipeline and local R&D ecosystem, and expose them to high-value opportunities.

9. Now, in building up our agri-food tech industry, be it urban farming, aquaculture, and alternative proteins, there are increasing opportunities for co-innovation and partnership to grow our sustainable food production model for both Singapore and the region. Even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen growing interest from global companies like Perfect Day to anchor new agri-food capabilities here. 

For example:

&ever - A German indoor vertical farming company which specialises in a proprietary 'dryponics’ substrate, and end-to-end automated farming system, will set up their first-in-Asia farm in Singapore, which will produce 500 tons of vegetables a year. &ever will also be setting up a Global R&D Centre which will be co-located with the farm and collaborate with local partners such as A*STAR and Signify to reduce energy consumption and optimising yield.

Buhler - The world’s largest company specialising in processing facility and equipment has partnered Givaudan, the world’s Number 1 flavours and fragrances company, to set up a dedicated plant-based food innovation centre in Singapore. The joint innovation centre will work with our food processing companies, startups and researchers to provide expertise in developing plant-based food products.

10. With the opening of the Agri-Food Innovation Park (AFIP) in the second quarter of next year, it will further catalyse innovation in our agri-food tech ecosystem, bring together high-tech farming and associated R&D activities to discover synergies across value-chains, and serve as a better base to attract companies, R&D talent and investment to Singapore. Our agri-food companies must continue to leverage technology, embark on innovation and seize collaboration opportunities to create competitive products with higher economic value add. 

11. For instance, our local start-up Sophie’s Bionutrients has collaborated with the Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation at A*STAR to develop a new sustainable alternative protein of microalgae, which can be turned into a plant-based protein for consumers’ daily diet. Two other local start-ups, Shiok Meats and TurtleTree Labs, who are in the cultured shellfish and cell-cultured milk spaces respectively, have cumulatively raised US$20.4 million and US$9.4 million recently to advance their technology and platform development. 

12. To accelerate the growth of Singapore’s agri-food tech ecosystem, the government has put in place various initiatives:

We launched the Singapore Food Story R&D Programme which provides funding of up to S$144 million to turn Singapore’s food challenges into opportunities by focusing on three themes: (i) Sustainable urban food production; (ii) Future Foods: Advanced Biotech-based Protein Production; and (iii) Food safety science and innovation.

The Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation (SIFBI) provides a single touchpoint for industry players who are keen to collaborate with A*STAR and supports development of solutions for the needs of the Asian market.

The Future Ready Food Safety Hub (FRESH), a tripartite collaboration between SFA, A*STAR and NTU seek to build local food safety science and R&D capabilities, support the new food innovation ecosystem and the national effort to secure Singapore’s food supply and economic value proposition. FRESH aims to allow “first-in-market” food products to be safely launched in Singapore, as well as help promote Singapore developed food standards internationally.

We are also building a vibrant cluster of financing firms across various stages. For example, New Protein Capital, EDB Investments, Temasek, and Proterra, as well as a base of global agri-food accelerators such as Big Idea Ventures alternative proteins accelerator and GROW Accelerator. Our eventual aim is to build up the talent pool with expertise to deploy more than S$90 million of capital.

To help groom local talent in this sector, we will work with leading global industry players such as Perfect Day to build up our workforce capabilities and ensure that we remain open to global talent. In the longer run, we will also foster greater collaborations with our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) and industry players to nurture future talent.

13. In conclusion, if I may just bring the various threads together, we have announced in the past that we intend to go into this agri-food tech sector in March last year. Since then, coming to about a two-year mark today, we have given you a sense of the progress that we have made in building up the local ecosystem, the R&D capabilities, the financing system, as well as the various local startups. At the same time, it is also to share on the progress we have made to attract significant industry players into this sector from other countries. 

14. Overall, we are building up the entire ecosystem to enable Singapore to be a bright spark in this region for the new food industry that is much more sustainable, affordable and accessible to the markets in Asia and beyond. This will also fit into our plans especially in the pandemic and post-pandemic environment, to secure our food supply which is a combination of our three strategies of diversification of sources, local stock pile as reserves and local production. We will step up the local production in different areas from production of vegetables and fiber, to alternative and new forms of plant-based protein like what we have today, so that we have a combination of food sources and different food types in order to meet our domestic food requirements.

15. At the same time, we are using our brand of quality and trust to be able to export such quality products to the region to meet the growing needs of the Asia Pacific. In brief, this is how we intend to grow agri-food tech sector for both our own needs and also to seize the growing opportunities available in the Asian Pacific region. Thank you.

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