1. When we look at the global demand for food for the next few decades, there are five key challenges that we need to overcome for global food production to be consistent.
2. The first challenge has to do with quantity. The global population is growing rapidly and there is a need for us to produce much more food. However, the number of people going into the agriculture industry is shrinking. The amount of land committed to agriculture may also not be growing as fast as it can. Therefore, the first challenge is how we can increase the quantity of production given our constraints.
3. The second challenge for the global food industry is the desire for higher food quality. This is especially so for the growing middle-income population, where there is an increasing demand for proteins and higher quality foods.
4. The third challenge is affordability. How do we achieve scale, efficiency of production, and ensure food is affordable to the masses?
5. The fourth challenge that has come to the forefront since COVID-19, has to do with the resilience of our supply chains and food supply security. How do we ensure the diversity of food sources and production methods in order to ensure supply resiliency amidst natural pandemics or other disruptions?
6. The last challenge is sustainability. How do we produce an increased amount of food at a higher quality and more affordable price, and ensure it is sustainable? There are a few key factors involved.
7. First, the usage of land. How do we maximise the usage of available land? The second factor has to do with water and the third has to do with energy. There are three basic challenges – the use of limited land, the need for clean water and to minimise the usage of energy in production.
8. In Singapore, there is an additional factor of limited manpower. How do we produce the food that we need given the finite manpower in this industry? This is why I am visiting Sky Greens today.
9. Today, there are different ways of producing food with high intensive methods. We have varying solutions and it is good for Singapore to develop these solution sets. Pros and cons differ across solution sets and they can be applied accordingly to various circumstances and countries with differing characteristics.
10. For Singapore, I am happy to see enterprises like Sky Greens piloting various solutions that can be applied not just in Singapore but also in the region. Today, we can see that Sky Greens has signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with various regional partners. This is an interesting concept. There are two areas that we are concerned with – building the capabilities, and building capacities for our domestic needs.
11. Let me start with building capabilities. We have different enterprises like Sky Greens piloting different solution sets that can be exported to other countries which require these intensive farming methods. Sky Greens has achieved some breakthrough by exporting their solutions to businesses as far as Canada and China. This allows Singapore enterprises to continuously evolve their products and solution sets to meet the various needs of countries. By having a portfolio of solutions, we are able to provide different solution sets to different places based on the constraints that they have. We have made some progress but there is still much that needs to be done.
12. Going forward, one of Singapore’s biggest challenges that we have in developing this industry is to achieve a breakthrough in energy consumption. If we want to be sustainable, we cannot produce food without considering the carbon footprint that comes with the added energy and fresh water supply, coupled with our finite amount of land. Paradoxically, due to the many constraints that we have, the solutions that we develop in Singapore to overcome them pose an attractive proposition to other countries. Even countries with large tracts of agricultural land also face constraints that we have such as a shrinking workforce in this industry. Therefore, if Singapore is able to develop solutions which can overcome the constraints of land, energy, water and manpower, it will create a new market for us to export our solutions to.
13. Once we have built these capabilities, when the conditions necessitate it, we can scale up to capacity. Today, we do not have to make the decision to produce various kinds of crops. However, we need to build the necessary capabilities so that when the time comes, we will be able to scale up. For instance, if there is demand due to natural causes such as pandemics or manmade disruptions such as export restrictions that disrupt our supply chains, we would have the capabilities to scale up to the capacity that we need. The speed that we can achieve this scale depends on various cost factors including manpower cost, land cost and others.
14. What is important in this journey is for enterprises to start using a portfolio of technologies. Different technologies have different needs for manpower, water, energy and land. Depending on how those variables change over time, we can apply the most appropriate solution set to scale up our capacities based on our capabilities. That is a great advantage.
15. In addition, when we export our solutions to other countries, we can pilot the scaling up of these solutions, which cannot be done in Singapore. We can also evolve our solutions as we develop solutions across the globe. We can therefore strengthen the capabilities that we have built up in Singapore that allow us to compete overseas and, at the same time, meet some of our domestic needs.
16. Lastly, we need to look at how we can effectively use available spaces that can be repurposed. Some interesting ideas are how we can scale these up to schools and community spaces, and build modular structures into these areas that are commercially viable. Instead of a flat, two-dimensional surface area, are we able to reconceptualise to three-dimensional surface areas across Singapore? These are exciting engineering projects that will attract another generation of people to come into this industry.
17. The industry today has changed. It is no longer a traditional farming industry but a food and manufacturing industry that embraces technology, data analytics and the latest mechanical systems. Understanding the whole ecosystem allows us to build different capabilities.
18. Going forward, if such ideas can work in Singapore and are commercially viable, they will become very attractive propositions for other countries. This can turn our constraints into opportunities for us to export our services.
19. In conclusion, this is an exciting area. I hope that more people will continue to invest in, and join this industry, and try to find ways to proliferate this using the resources that we have and different methods. Thank you.