by Mya Chew
Singaporeans have caught the gardening bug. Amid the pandemic, more and younger people have taken to gardening as a new hobby. There has even been a push by the National Parks Board (NParks) to encourage people to grow edible plants at home. This initiative is in line with Singapore’s strategy to strengthen food resilience. Presently, NParks has already distributed close to 460,000 seed packs, an indication of the overwhelming support for the initiative.
As a land scarce nation devoid of natural resources, Singapore has relied on food imports as our main source of food. Singapore imports almost 90% of its food! This makes Singapore very vulnerable to volatilities of the global food market, including export bans and travel disruptions. The current COVID-19 crisis has brought Singapore’s food resilience into sharper focus.
One solution to Singapore’s food supply vulnerabilities could be hydroponics. Hydroponics is the cultivation of plants in the absence of soil. Hydroponic flowers, herbs, and vegetables are planted in growing media and supplied with nutrient-rich solutions, oxygen, and water. This helps to foster rapid growth, stronger yields, and superior quality of plants. When a plant is grown in soil, its roots are searching for the necessary nutrition to support the plant. If a plant’s root system is exposed directly to water and nutrition, the plant does not have to exert any energy in sustaining itself. The excess energy can thus be redirected into the plant growth.
Hydroponics could be the future of all farming in Singapore as it is less labour intensive and requires much less space compared to traditional farming. Eight companies across Singapore have accepted the Singapore Food Agency’s (SFA) 30×30 Express Grant to ramp up local food production. Many of the high technology vertical farming processes will incorporate hydroponics to grow local produce. The SFA said the grant will accelerate Singapore’s efforts to meet its 30 by 30 goal, which is to secure 30 percent of the country’s nutritional needs with food produced locally by 2030. Genesis One Tech Farm, located in a 10,000ft facility situated in Eunos, uses a
a custom-designed hybrid Nutrient Film Technology system, coupled with 5G energy-saving LED lighting in order to maximise growth cycle efficiency. This system enables the firm to recycle the water used, thus using a fraction of the water requirements generally associated with a hydroponic system and minimising the environmental waste impact.
Singapore is also trying to introduce the idea of hydroponics to the general population. Our Tampines Hub is offering residents vertical hydroponics kits that can be used to grow veggies at home. This scheme is part of an initiative called Our Green Hut, which also involves starting a vertical hydroponic farm to produce more than 15 types of vegetables.
Even though it seems as if hydroponics is automatically the next step forward, we should keep in mind some of its disadvantages it brings.We have to consider the materials and energy needed to build these high technology systems in the first place. The constant electricity needed may hike up your electricity bills! Materials such as plastic tubings and manifolds used in hydroponics systems may also not be the most environmentally friendly items. Moreover, critics of hydroponics say that the succulent taste of growing plants in soil can never compare to plants grown without soil.
COVID-19 is a good wake up call for Singapore to focus more on our self sustainability. Despite our efforts to increase local production, we still have a long way to go. In the meantime, we as consumers should appreciate the efforts that go into growing our produce, and treasure every KangKong and XiaoBaiCai that we see on our plates!
Mya is a recent graduate of Anglo-Chinese School Independent who is passionate about environmentalism. She takes part in many other environment related activities such as starting her own website OurGreenHelpers to educate domestic helpers on sustainability.