The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) is launching a S$30 million ($21 million) grant to boost the country’s agrifood industry, as the Covid-19 pandemic lays bare the fragilities in Southeast Asia’s food supply chain.
The fund is dubbed ’30×30 Express’ in reference to Singapore’s goal of domestically sourcing at least 30% of its food by 2030. It will distribute grants to “local agrifood players” that can increase domestic production in three categories – eggs, fish, and leafy vegetables – in the shortest possible time.
These three categories have been chosen because of their “potential for increased production,” an SFA spokesperson told AFN.
“These food items are some of the commonly consumed [in Singapore], and which Singapore has existing capabilities to produce locally. They are also more perishable and hence susceptible to supply disruptions,” they said.
The grant call will be officially opened later this month. Local producers of the three food types will be invited to submit their proposals to “grow more and grow faster,” the SFA representative added.
Successful grant recipients will be able to use the cash to cover the upfront costs of accelerating expansion and production output over the next six to 24 months.
The grant will also provide “co-funding of productivity-enhancing technology systems,” the agency said in a statement.
Alternative farming spaces
As part of the initiative, the SFA will work together with other Singapore government bodies to “identify alternative farming spaces,” including industrial spaces and vacant sites. Next month, the SFA will also launch a tender of rooftops in multi-storey car parks operated by the Housing & Development Board – the country’s public housing body – to set up rooftop urban farming spaces.
The SFA indicated that the 30×30 Express grant will complement its Agriculture Productivity Fund. This existing fund is aimed at supporting local farmers “in their efforts to expand production capability, boost yield, and raise productivity.” This includes co-funding research and development into “commercially viable” farm tech with “direct practical industry application to local agricultural industry,” as well as “adoption of automated, advanced, and integrated farming systems.”
According to Tommy Hayes, food and nutrition analyst at Lux Research, Singapore produces higher or equivalent proportions of eggs, fish, and leafy greens than the overall proportion of local food production – which is less than 10%.
“To be precise, in 2018, Singapore farms produced 24% of eggs, 9% of fish, and 13% of leafy vegetables consumed here. Local manufacturing of these key commodities will help decrease the time delta between production and availability for purchase, which is critical in a time like this,” he told AFN.
Given the six-to-24-month timeframe, companies with existing infrastructure or a commercially-validated technology seem to be the intended target of the SFA’s new grant, Hayes added.
“This could be a startup, but [it] would have to be a more mature one. Those offering technologies that address productivity-related aspects could benefit, such as optimizing growing conditions to increase leafy vegetable yield in vertical farms, and remote monitoring tools for hens and fish to reduce mortality rates.”
As to whether $21 million is enough to solve Singapore’s supply chain anxieties, Hayes affirms that ensuring an adequate food supply is “a complex equation with many variables – local production capacity and efficiency, rate of importation and exportation, supply stockpiling, [and] consumer purchasing habits,” among others.
“What can be definitively said now is that any amount of investment is better than nothing, and Singapore is focusing on a variable it can directly influence – local production capacity and efficiency,” he said. “For the other variables, unfortunately, direct investment like the 30×30 Express grant won’t help, and will require careful engagement with relevant stakeholders.”
More details on the 30×30 Express grant will be shared when it is launched in mid-April 2020.