s urban farming gains traction across cities in developed countries, vacant buildings, empty lots, yards and abandoned parks have been re-purposed to grow greens for the cities’ residents. By bringing production closer to concentrations of people, these modern-day farms can slash the often lengthy food chain, ensuring that greens arrive at the table fresher with lower adverse impact on the environment.
The confluence of technology, engineering, design and farming, which has enabled more to be produced with less land, labour and water, is making urban farming a viable proposition. While it may have been started on a lark by some enterprising hipster with a green passion, it is now attracting some serious money. Berlin start-up Infarm raised US$135 million since it was founded by three brothers in 2013. Now 250-person strong, the company has operations in Switzerland, Luxembourg, Germany and France with plans to expand its farming operation to the United Kingdom and the United States.
Singapore has joined the global movement in ramping up its domestic food production. Vertical farms, rooftop gardens and floating farms are cropping up to produce vegetables, fish and poultry for the city’s residents. No longer are they grown only in agricultural enclaves, they can be found above city streets, on rooftops and even under the viaducts.
The city fathers are encouraging the development in the interest of food security. While local production can only meet a fraction of the country’s needs even with the best effort, this can serve as a buffer against global supply shocks. Under the 30 by 30 strategy, Singapore’s aim is to increase local production to 30 percent of total requirement by 2030 from just10 percent today.
First national standard for organic primary produce
The SS 632: 2017 for Organic Primary Produce is the world’s first national standard for organic primary produce grown in urban - or near urban – environments. Developed by the SSC’s Food Standards Committee, it is tailored to Singapore’s farm settings, such as limited space for agriculture, a lack of natural resources, higher operating costs due to energy consumption and manpower constraints.
Administered by Enterprise Singapore, it covers processes such as production, post-harvest practices, import, packing and repacking, storage, transportation and labelling of organic produce for primary products such as grains, mushrooms, fresh vegetables, fresh herbs and fresh fruits. To achieve the certification, farms must meet the requirements for sustainable farming practices, including the use of rainwater, living substrate or growing media, and having an enclosed area for farming that limits potential contamination and pollution from the environment.
Sky Greens is the first local vertical farm to be certified to SS 632 having met its exacting requirements. “Organic farming practices have increasingly been adopted worldwide in open field soil-based farms. But there is now a rapid decline in arable farmland and more farms are being developed in urban areas,” said Dr Ngiam Tong Tau, chairman of Sky Urban Solutions Holding, which owns Sky Greens.
More clean-green standards
The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) is planning to develop ‘clean-green standards’ for urban vegetable farms that adhere to high standards but are not strictly organic. Speaking at the Sky Greens SS 632 Certification Ceremony, on 11 June 20, Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, said, “High food standards and stringent regulations help to build trust in Singapore’s food products and services. This in turn enables our farms to gain market share locally and access new markets overseas. Currently, we have a certification scheme to recognise local vegetable farms that adopt the code of ‘Good Agricultural Practice’ as a food safety assurance system. Going forward, SFA is looking to develop a set of ‘Clean-Green Standards’ for urban vegetable farms that adhere to high standards but are not strictly organic. This will recognise farms that produce safe, good quality, and nutritious vegetables in a clean, resource-efficient environment with no pesticide use. The standards will be developed together with the industry, academia and consumers.”