Authorities will not ‘dictate’ farming methods as Singapore pushes for increased productivity: Grace Fu

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SINGAPORE: The authorities will not “dictate” farming methods even as Singapore pushes for increased productivity, said Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu on Wednesday (Nov 25).

Ms Fu was speaking during a question and answer session at her ministry’s 2020: Singapore Food Story appreciation event, which was live streamed on the Ministry of Sustainability and Environment’s (MSE) Facebook page.
 
“We will help, we will not dictate, we will not say that you have to use a high-tech way or other,” said Ms Fu, who was responding to a question on whether Singapore’s shift to high-tech farming would leave behind some traditional farmers and possibly leading them to close their farms.

“But in the end, we’ll look at what can you produce. And that to us is important because we have to deal with a land constraint and a land budget in a way. And then we have to meet our goals, given the constraint of land.”

Under the “30 by 30″ target, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) has set a goal of producing 30 per cent of Singapore’s nutritional needs by 2030. This was announced in March last year.

READ: Singapore aims to produce 30% of its nutritional needs by 2030, up from less than 10%

Last month, plans for the Lim Chu Kang area to be transformed into a high-tech agri-food cluster were announced to help strengthen the country’s food security and also create jobs for Singaporeans.

In a media release, SFA said that the redeveloped Lim Chu Kang agri-food cluster should be able to produce more than three times its current food production when completed.

The master plan, undertaken in consultation with stakeholders, is expected to be completed over the next two to three years. Meanwhile, development works, which will be carried out in phases, are slated to start in 2024.

All farms in the Lim Chu Kang area will be able to stay to the end of their leases, said SFA. 

A total of 23 farms, whose leases are expiring between this year and 2022, will be offered a short tenancy extension before SFA redevelops the land. Three farms whose leases expire between 2026 and 2027 will be allowed to remain there until their leases end.

READ: Lim Chu Kang to be transformed into high-tech agri-food cluster under SFA master plan

FINDING THE ‘BEST COMBINATION’

While Ms Fu did not specify on Wednesday which farmers she was referring to, she noted that the authorities would “respect” the leases of local farmers.

“All the farmers (who) have land leases from us, we will respect the land leases, we will let them ride out to the end. So we are not thinking about acquiring the land,” she said.

However she added that it is important for farmers to think about ways to increase their output.

“If we’re really looking at making use of existing land that we have to transform the industry, we would want our conventional farmers to also think about ways to increase the yield,” she said. 

“So not all of them need to go high tech, but they need to think about how to increase the quantity of production.”

Ms Fu noted that with a “demographic shift”, a new generation of farmers could come in with better ideas. 

However, she also pointed out that not many of them would be prepared to “toil” in a similar way as the generation before and the industry will need to explore less labour-intensive farming methods.

“We are in a demographic shift as well, the farmers that are in their 60s and 70s, if they’re able to get their sons, grandsons to come in, I think that’s a good thing. A new generation may come up with some solutions,” she explained.

“If not, actually there are not that many Singaporeans that will be prepared to toil because it’s actually … backbreaking work. And we know that we cannot continue to rely on migrant workers in a very significant way.”

READ: Expect more growth, job opportunities in the sustainability sector: Grace Fu

Ms Fu added that the industry would have to raise its productivity to allow farmers to earn more.

“They can produce more so that it is more viable and that they can have a better living. In the end, that’s what we really want – that Singaporeans get good paying jobs and careers and businesses,” she said.

“The farmers, they bring along with them a lot of knowledge. How do we couple that with a different way of thinking about growing? I think that’s what we need.

“I’ve seen in some cases, indeed, there are second and third generations coming in, really relying on the deep expertise of the pioneer generation and adding on with technology, I think that’s the best combination that we can look for.”

The event on Wednesday also marked the launch of the first grant call for the S$50 million SG Eco Fund.

Announced in March, the fund aims to support ground-up projects that advance environmental sustainability in Singapore. 

The grant call will close on Jan 31, 2021.

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