SPEECH BY DR KOH POH KOON, SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR SUSTAINABILITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT, AT THE GLOBAL AGRI-FOOD SCIENTIFIC SYMPOSIUM ON 1 NOVEMBER 2023
Professors and distinguished guests
Ladies and gentlemen
1 It is my pleasure to join you at the second Global Agri-Food Scientific Symposium. I am glad to see everyone gather again to exchange knowledge and strengthen our capabilities in future food-tech, nutrition and safety, agri-tech, and aqua-tech.
Global food production in a changing climate
2 The theme of this year’s symposium is “A Resilient and Sustainable Food Future”. This is particularly relevant as our global food production system is facing mounting challenges.
3 We continued to witness the impact of extreme weather conditions brought about by climate change on food production yields. In Asia, the level of production for crops such as rice and corn is projected to decrease as we near the end of the year.
4 Pandemics and disease outbreaks have also resulted in more food supply disruptions globally. Earlier this year, Singapore experienced a disruption of live pigs from Pulau Bulan, Indonesia, due to an incursion of African Swine Fever. Time and again, we will experience some of these disease outbreaks that will have an impact on the supply chain.
5 Our global climate is clearly changing. We cannot continue doing things the same way as before while expecting the global agri-food system is going to be able to supply a growing global population.
Importance of technology and innovation in food production
6 Across the world, farms have been harnessing technology, science, and innovation to augment production in the face of growing challenges. Take for example, precision agriculture, which uses advanced technologies such as sensors, internet of things and artificial intelligence to optimise various aspects of farming.
7 These provide farmers with data in areas such as soil conditions, weather patterns, prediction of weather events, allowing them to make informed decisions in irrigation and the application of fertiliser to achieve higher yield and improved resource efficiency. As they say in farming, every input is a cost, and the more you can lower the costs, the better you can make your yield.
8 Then there is bioprocess engineering, which enables the entire process of cultivated meat production to occur in bioreactors, without the resources usually required for traditional animal farming, and perhaps a lot less environmental impact as well.
9 There has been much progress in this field since Dutch scientist, Professor Mark Post, unveiled the first cultivated meat burger on live television a decade ago. He will be sharing more on the advancements in cultivated meat later today, and I look forward to hearing about it.
10 In Singapore, technology and innovation play an important role in our agri-food landscape too. They are key enablers towards our “30 by 30” vision, to build our agri-food industry’s capability and capacity to sustainably produce, locally, 30 per cent of our nutritional needs by 2030. In a country where less than one per cent of our land is set aside for food production, technology enables us to grow more with less, sustainably.
AquaPolis: Moving towards sustainable aquaculture through R&D
11 Last year, for example, we shared about the AquaPolis. AquaPolis is an aquaculture research development programme to facilitate research and innovation in sustainable tropical aquaculture. It aims to capitalise on the technical, operational and research expertise of strategic partners to achieve translational R&D results that can improve the productivity and competitiveness of our local farms.
12 We have taken several steps forward since then. Last month, the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singapore Food Agency (SFA) jointly organised an AquaPolis workshop to kickstart the programme, where leading scientists from local institutes of higher learning (IHLs) and research institutes (RIs) gathered to brainstorm and propose practical solutions for the industry through R&D.
13 NUS, SFA and Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory also set up the structure of the AquaPolis programme and appointed its Board last month.
14 The Board will set the strategic direction of the programme and will be co-chaired by Professor Liu Bin, Deputy President of NUS, and Mr Peter Ho, Co-founder of Hope Technik. They will be joined by industry members and representatives from the academia and government agencies.
15 I look forward to the signing of the AquaPolis Agreement later to formalise this structure and operationalise the programme, and the innovative and sustainable solutions that will be developed in the coming years.
Fostering a supportive ecosystem for agri-food innovation
16 The AquaPolis programme is just one of several initiatives under the Singapore Food Story (SFS) R&D Programme 2.0. In any industry, a supportive ecosystem is critical to facilitating innovation, and the SFS R&D programme is a key instrument in Singapore’s efforts to support agri-food innovation.
17 Under the programme, more than $300 million has been committed to fund projects that address key challenges of our agri-food industry, including in urban agriculture and aquaculture practices, future foods, and food safety.
18 In the coming months, two new grant calls will be launched:
19 First, under the SFS R&D Programme 2.0, the Future Foods grant call. The grant call will be launched this month, and researchers, technology providers and potential adopters can tap on it to improve the process development and better enable the future manufacturing of alternative proteins.
20 EnterpriseSG and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research will also be launching a Food Manufacturing grant call under the Manufacturing, Trade & Connectivity Domain early next year. It aims to encourage the co-innovation of solutions for companies to expand their product offerings and adopt sustainable practices to capture new growth opportunities, particularly in the areas of productisation in stratified nutrition, food side stream valorisation, and sustainable food packaging.
21 Together, the grant calls will provide holistic R&D and translation coverage across the agri-food value chain encompassing sustainability themes.
Partnerships are key to facilitating innovation
22 A thriving and innovative agri-food ecosystem also requires collaborations and partnerships between the government, industry, IHLs, and RIs.
23 In June this year, I led a delegation comprising representatives from the industry, academia, and marine nature groups, as well as various government agency representatives on a study trip to Australia, to learn more about their development of sustainable aquaculture. A key observation I noticed was the close relationship amongst stakeholders.
24 From the government to industry players and researchers, as well as nature groups, they all work closely together to address knowledge gaps, update one another on innovative ideas, and conduct research that improves food production while also safeguarding the marine environment.
25 Similarly, as we seek to uplift and transform Singapore’s aquaculture industry into a productive and sustainable one, we hope to develop this strong spirit of collaboration and ownership too.
Co-developing the Singapore Aquaculture Plan
26 That is why we have formed two sub-committees to co-develop the Singapore Aquaculture Plan (SAP) and uplift the local aquaculture sector. The sub-committees comprises diverse members from the academia, farmers, nature groups, food businesses and supermarket owners and government agencies. This is the first time we are bringing stakeholders from across the spectrum to collectively create a roadmap and a vision for the aquaculture sector in Singapore.
27 They will chart out how to make the aquaculture sector more productive and sustainable. For example, they will look into sites suitable for sustainable and productive fish farming, research opportunities, as well as demand off-take to make the aquaculture industry more environmentally sustainable and economically viable.
28 The vision for our aquaculture sector is an ambitious one. We will need all stakeholders on-board and working together to achieve it. The formation of the sub-committees signals our commitment to co-develop the SAP with all stakeholders, while balancing the needs, opportunities and trade-offs of the industry and the environment.
29 We will foster collective visioning and flesh out our shared vision with actionable outcomes. The committee members met for the first time last month and had a robust and fruitful discussion. I look forward to hearing the ideas and proposals from them in due course.
Collaborating on R&D in urban agriculture
30 While we map out an ambitious vision for our aquaculture sector, we are also committed to building our capabilities and capacity in urban agriculture. We are actively enhancing our research capabilities and fostering partnerships to position Singapore as an innovation hub.
31 On this note, I am pleased to announce that SFA, together with NUS and the Economic Development Board, will be signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) later today with Syngenta, a global developer and producer of seeds.
32 The MOU signifies our commitment to collaborate on R&D to breed vegetables varieties that can help farms boost productivity and withstand the effects of climate change. This collaboration will give a further boost to innovation in tropical vegetables production and augment Singapore’s food security.
33 In closing, let me underscore the importance of finding new ways to grow our food sustainably and productively. While technology and innovation offer us many possibilities, a supportive and conducive research environment together with close partnerships between the international community, academia, industry, consumers, and the government is important to address the multi-faceted challenges facing the agri-food sector.
34 I hope today’s discussions will catalyse more R&D collaboration towards “A Resilient and Sustainable Food Future”. And I wish all of you a fruitful and meaningful discussion ahead. Thank you.