Speech by Dr Koh Poh Koon, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, at the Global Agri-Food Scientifc Symposium on 27 October 2022
Ladies and Gentlemen
1 Good morning to all. It is my pleasure to welcome everyone to the inaugural Global Agri-Food Scientific Symposium organised by the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Today’s Symposium brings together 20 speakers from eminent Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) and research institutions, to share local and international developments and trends in the agri-tech space, participate in panel discussions, and present notable research developments on two themes: i) Resilient and Sustainable Urban Food Systems and ii) Transformation of Future Food System.
2 The Symposium is being held at a time when the issue of food security is in critical focus. The world’s food supply is facing increasing pressure due to global trends, rising volatility and the continued global population growth. Climate change, in particular, exacerbates food security challenges. Rising temperatures and increased frequencies of adverse weather events have impacted agricultural productivity and output. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that by 2050, global warming may cause crop yields across the globe to decline by up to 25 per cent. 2050 may seem far away but the work needs to start now. We need to transform the way food is produced. We need it to be resilient to the impact of climate change.
Need for Science and Technology (S&T)
3 Tackling the global food supply challenges will require leveraging advancements in science, technology and innovation. Technologies including Artificial Intelligence (AI) and sensor technologies can help farms make predictive and informed decisions to maximise productivity.
Such technology is already used in some of our local farms. For instance, at the Singapore Aquaculture Technologies, a floating fish farm, AI is used to determine fish size and behaviour by using cameras to detect the length of the fish and their feeding response when fish food is deposited into the tanks. This allows the farm to optimise feeding, preventing wastage caused by over feeding or malnutrition due to under feeding. The camera also serves as a disease monitoring function for symptoms such as bulging eyes and skin lesions, which enables the farm to perform early intervention to prevent mass outbreak of diseases.
4 Beyond AI, technology such as hyperspectral imaging can be used for real time crop health monitoring and nutrient analysis. A research team from NTU is collaborating with Panasonic to use this technology to jointly develop a system to automate analysis of crop growth and nutrient levels at various stages of development for hydroponics systems. This will help to improve productivity and reduce waste.
5 The expansion of the alternative proteins sector is also a significant part of the broader growth story of the agri-food industry as demand for sustainable nutritional solutions rises worldwide. Companies in Singapore are at various stages of maturity as we ramp up research and development in alternative proteins. Just recently in June, Good Meat broke ground on the largest cultivated meat production centre in Asia to be set up in Singapore. On the heels of the Good Meat plant, Singapore has just approved the sale of food products containing a microbial protein, Solein. This powder-like protein is produced by Finnish company, Solar Foods, and does not require animals or agriculture in its production process. Instead, Solein is produced using a process where a microorganism is grown using carbon dioxide and renewable electricity. This allows its production to be unaffected by weather and climate conditions. This kind of production process makes it a sustainable way of producing protein to supplement existing proteins in foods.
Growing S&T Developments for Agri-food Industry
6 Today’s flagship scientific Symposium will showcase cutting edge research innovations for the agri-food industry, which SFA has been actively supporting through the Singapore Food Story (SFS) R&D programme. For the first iteration of this programme, S$144 million has been set aside to fund research in three areas: i) sustainable urban food production, ii) future foods or alternative proteins, and iii) food safety science and innovation. So far, there have been two grant calls under the first theme of sustainable urban food production, with over $23 million in funding awarded for the first grant call.
7 One of the beneficiaries of the fund is Professor Joachim Loo from Nanyang Technological University. He led a project that resulted in the development of an innovative technique to produce functional fish feeds. Fish feed plays a crucial role in the health, growth and development of farmed fish and the feed that Prof Loo’s team have developed has the potential to enhance the growth rate and health of the Asian Seabass.
The team hopes to conduct study trials and explore the possibility of introducing this feed to local farms in the future.
8 Another beneficiary is Professor Yu Hao from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory. Professor Yu’s project explores advanced breeding strategies such as genome editing to improve leafy vegetables and is one of the featured research innovations at today’s Symposium. The project findings can contribute to the Singapore food story by generating novel crop varieties with high quality traits tailored for urban controlled environments. I look forward to hearing more about Prof Yu’s and Prof Loo’s project findings later.
9 As the R&D innovations from the first grant call come to fruition, I am happy to announce the results of the second grant call launched in November last year. The second grant call seeks new solutions in sustainable urban food production in two key research areas – (I) disease and health management and (II) nutrient and quality preservation for fresh produce. A total of S$7.8 million will be awarded to five projects that aim to deliver innovations for increased crop yields, enhanced crop shelf life, and achieve resilient and sustainable agricultural systems. With this, the first iteration of the SFS R&D Programme has committed support to 50 projects and we look forward to their innovative solutions.
10 The Government has injected fresh funding into the SFS R&D Programme 2.0 to further support research projects in agriculture, aquaculture, future foods and food safety domains. SFS R&D 2.0 will dive deeper into these domains through the lens of sustainability by placing greater emphasis on challenges facing food security, such as intensifying sustainability and circularity for Singapore’s climate change commitments and enhancing food safety amidst the emergence of novel food.
Partnerships for a Collaborative and Supportive S&T Ecosystem
11 To grow food innovations, a collaborative and supportive ecosystem with partnerships between the Government, IHLs and research institutions is critical to facilitate the sharing of knowledge, ideas, and infrastructure. As announced by Minister Grace Fu at the Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Summit yesterday, SFA and Temasek are co-presenting a new Food Grand Challenge as part of The Liveability Challenge. This is a prime example of how the public and private sectors can come together towards a common goal of encouraging innovations in disruptive circular urban agriculture, aquaculture and alternative proteins to strengthen the S&T capabilities of our food ecosystem.
12 The NUS Research Centre on Sustainable Urban Farming, or SUrF, is another platform that will enable collaborations between research institutions and the industry.
With its core team of diverse experts from various fields such as science, engineering and computing, SUrF will be a cross-boundary platform where integrated multidisciplinary research can be carried out to develop novel science and technology and industry-based solutions. An example is Professor Yu’s project that I mentioned earlier. This project tapped on SUrF to develop advanced agriculture techniques that could potentially increase the capability and capacity of our agri-industry.
13 SFA, ASTAR and NTU also came together to establish the Future Ready Food Safety Hub (FRESH). FRESH brings together government, industry and academia to build capabilities in food safety science and research and support the food innovation ecosystem by enabling the launch of safe, “first-in-market” food products in Singapore. To further develop food tech innovations, FoodInnovate was set up under a multi-agency partnership including SFA, EnterpriseSG (ESG), ASTAR, Economic Development Board (EDB), Innovation Partner for Impact and JTC Corporation to bring a suite of resources to Singapore food companies.
This initiative complements Temasek and A*STAR’s existing Food Tech Innovation Centre that provides access to shared infrastructure, industry knowledge and a co-innovation platform to accelerate the commercialisation of new food technology.
14 Let me conclude. Today’s Symposium is a milestone in our food security journey. It highlights the science and tech innovations, as well as partnerships that we have built and established thus far. However, we are just at the start of our collective journey and there is so much more untapped potential in science and technology that can contribute to global food security. We will continue to work closely with agri-food companies, IHLs and research institutions to catalyse more opportunities for R&D partnerships and collaborations to strengthen the science and tech capabilities of our food ecosystem and transform Singapore into an agri-food innovation hub for the region. I wish everyone a meaningful symposium.