A quiet corner amid the concrete jungle houses 5.6 million residents in all the 720 square-kilometre area. This northern part of the island, down over a Kranji Countryside is a farmland that cultivates many kinds of produce ranging from arowana fish and frogs all the way to goats and dairy cows.
Speaking to the DairyReporter, Leon Hay said, “The area has been set aside for agriculture but the government’s direction is still not clear.” Mr Hay is one of the third generation of farmers to inherit that name in Kranji.
Mr Hay breeds goats and produces more than 800 litres of milk daily which he supplies to local supermarkets as well as through home delivery. However, to rear as many as 2,000 goats that he aims for, Mr Hay must depend on the government for farm relocation.
He believes that just two acres of new land would be enough to rear 2,000 goats but he is not sure of the government’s intention. With this expansion and new land, the Singapore’s Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) would be galvanised into granting longer farm leases and investing more into the country’s farming sector.
He added that, “Unlike in other countries, where lands are freehold or generational, Singapore is one little dot on the map and land is very scarce, so the government controls it all.”
Mr Hay’s current farm location must be returned back to the government by 2021 for military use, including most of the surrounding agricultural lands.
A collective 60 hectares near Lim Chu Kang and Sungei Tengah areas will be given to the around 60 farmers who are affected by the compulsory takeover. This lease will be for 20 years.
In 2017, the renewal of the lease until 2021 was a cause for surprise for Mr Hay and other farmers. However, “They can’t give us very long-term tenures so at the moment we are still waiting for an answer on new plots of land,” Mr Hay said.
He also recalled: “We did try working with other farms to lobby the government but it wasn’t much use. The government is mindful about Singapore’s food security, but it is still not clear about the direction it’s going to take yet. It’s in their hands.”
Thirty years ago, the farmland started cultivation with pork production, but then it switched to ducks, chickens and goat farming due to health concerns with pork.
“The population is getting more educated, they know that cow’s milk is not the only type of milk available now . So the supermarkets approached us to supply them with our goats’ milk. With the help of government agencies, local producers are being strongly marketed here in Singapore,” Mr Hay noted.
Mr Hay notes that it remains to be seen if “the government will give us more land. Nobody knows what will happen.”
Therefore, there is a lack of clarity for local farmers as to the fate of their lands in the future, which is a pertinent concern when it comes to the country’s food security.
Move to boost local food security
In order to reduce dependence on imports and protect the country from external shocks, Singapore is investing S$30 million to increase the rate of local production.
The funding by the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) will be provided through a grant which will be launched in mid-April. The recipient of the food is the agri-food businesses in the country which will promote further development of foods that are already locally produced such as fish, leafy vegetables and eggs. The agri-business can still use support to realise the country’s ambitions.
Funding will also be channelled towards urban farming or vertical farming. Under this farming method, select fresh products like vegetables can be cultivated under controlled methods without the use of land mass or soil or pesticides.
According to the SFA, beginning from May this year, it will release a tender to use rooftop spaces on the car parks of residential housing for urban farming. These residential housing are state-owned Housing Development Board accommodation where the majority of Singaporeans stay in.
By 2030t, the country seeks to improve its self-sufficiency in producing nutritional foods locally by 30 per cent. To realise this, it has adopted urban farming systems early on to address the issue of limited land for agricultural use.
To identify vacant sites and industrial spaces, government agencies will collaborate with one another. According to the SFA, these sites and spaces can be “tapped to facilitate the ramping up of local food production” for the next six months to two years, and the recent pandemic has made this all the more important.
SFA added that through invitations, agri-food companies operating in the three stated food categories can submit proposals to “grow more and grow faster”.
Firms that receive a grant can use it as an upfront investment to “accelerate their farms’ expansion in production capacity within the next six to 24 months”.
“Our three strategies of diversifying food imports, growing local and growing overseas have served us well in ensuring Singapore’s food security, even during times of supply disruption,” the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Masagos Zulkifli remarked.
He assured: “We will continue to work closely with the industry to strengthen the capabilities of local food production. Demand from consumers will spur our farmers to become more productive, and allow them to reap the benefits of economies of scale. This in turn will bolster our food security, and create good jobs for our people.”
The country invested S$144 million to promote food-related innovation including lab-grown meat in 2019. One such company is Shiok Meats, who is looking to develop its first shrimp-based products.