High-tech farming: the key to urban food security?

At the side event “Urban Food Security in an Urbanizing World: Lessons from Singapore” during this week’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS) a young man caught my attention.  Actually,  EVERYONE was interested in Martin Lavoo, Co-founder and director of Sustenir Agriculture Ltd a young farmer-entrepreneur from Singapore.

Sustenir Agriculture, an indoor farming company based in Singapore, was founded by Martin and his friend Benjamin Swan in 2013. They describe themselves and their team as “a bunch of crazy, passionate farmers that want to share their love for veggies with the world”. They grow and sell vegetables.

What is particularly interesting about Sustenir Agriculture is that it grows their crops using special technology called Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA).  This technology produces plants without ever exposing them to outdoor elements.  (In fact they started their business in their basement.) Vegetables are grown indoors in artificial plant habitats created by technology and people. It means no soil; LED-lights instead of sunlight, and no pollutants.

According to Sustenir Agriculture,  their product is 100% clean, fresh, organic, free of pesticides and rich in beta-keratin, vitamin K, C, A and calcium.

CEA technology allows Martin and his team to grow a type of salad-kale that is not native to Singapore. Their vision is to grow and supply the market with local products to replace imports.  Moreover he wants to show young people that farming is not an “old-school” thing by providing a successful example.

Now, if you are a young “traditional” farming lover like me who loves sunshine, feeling the soil and getting your hands dirty, the CEA method may not appeal.  Photos of people in white protective clothes with masks (imagine a surgeon) farming in LED-light (dark pink neon lights) may give you a “uneasy” feeling.

Martin Lavoo’s farming seemed at first a bit “distant” to me.  Agriculture is not only planting but, for some of us, also socializing. However the CEA method has great importance in the food security systems of Singapore, as it is a 100 percent urbanized country with very little land for agriculture.

Ms. Tan Poh Hong, CEO of Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore, says that high-tech, innovative, highly intensive and productive farming is the future of their agriculture sector. Indoor farming SPREAD Ltd in Japan and SEAFARM in the Netherlands are the examples of successful urban farming that Tan Poh Hong admires.

During the session I begin to relate more to Martin and his team.  It is easy for us to say that growing food in an artificial habitat seems wrong. But for a highly urbanized country, dependent on imported food like Singapore, high-tech agriculture is critical to their food security.

For some countries extensive, for some intensive, for some community based farming and for some high-tech farming is the best choice.  In this pressured world of ours, choosing the best local practices suitable for specific conditions might be one of the best ways.

There is no right or wrong way to do things. There is millions of ways to do things. 

Blogpost by Anudari Enkhtur, #CFS43 Social Reporter – e.anudari(at)yahoo.com

Photo: Amaranth under grow lights, courtesy: Plant Chicago on Flickr

This post is part of the live coverage during the 43rd Session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.

 

20/10/2016 12:15

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