FEATURE-With farms atop malls, Singapore gets serious about food security
By Rina Chandran, Thomson Reuters Foundation
8 January 2019
SINGAPORE, Jan 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Visitors to Singapore's Orchard Road, the city's main shopping belt, will find fancy malls, trendy department stores, abundant food courts - and a small farm.
Comcrop's 600-square-metre (6,450-square-foot) farm on the roof of one of the malls uses vertical racks and hydroponics to grow leafy greens and herbs such as basil and peppermint that it sells to nearby bars, restaurants and stores.
The farm's small size belies its big ambition: to help improve the city's food security.
Comcrop's Allan Lim, who set up the rooftop farm five years ago, recently opened a 4,000-square-metre farm with a greenhouse on the edge of the city.
He believes high-tech urban farms are the way ahead for the city, where more land cannot be cultivated.
"Agriculture is not seen as a key sector in Singapore. But we import most of our food, so we are very vulnerable to sudden disruptions in supply," Lim said.
"Land, natural resources and low-cost labour used to be the predominant way that countries achieved food security. But we can use technology to solve any deficiencies," he said.
Singapore last year topped the Economist Intelligence Unit's (EIU) Global Food Security Index of 113 countries for the first time, scoring high on measures such as affordability, availability and safety.
Yet, as the country imports more than 90 percent of its food, its food security is susceptible to climate-change and natural resource risks, the EIU noted.
With some 5.6 million people in an area three-fifths the size of New York City - and with the population estimated to grow to 6.9 million by 2030 - land is at a premium in Singapore.
The country has long reclaimed land from the sea, and plans to move more of its transport, utilities and storage underground to free up space for housing, offices and greenery.
It has also cleared dozens of cemeteries for homes and highways.
Agriculture makes up only about 1 percent of its land area, so better use of space is key, said Samina Raja, a professor of urban and regional planning at the University at Buffalo in New York.
"Urban agriculture is increasingly being recognised as a legitimate land use in cities," she said.
"It offers a multitude of benefits, from increased food security and improved nutrition to greening of spaces. But food is seldom a part of urban planning."
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